Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama is a world famous Japanese artist who works in a range of different media. Kusama mostly creates highly decorative, patterned sculptures and installations inspired by natural forms and Pop Art. However, she also makes paintings, films, fashion pieces and performance art.

Yayoi Kusama – Pumpkin, 2018
Yayoi Kusama – Pumpkin, 2018
Yayoi Kusama – Pumpkin, 2018
Yayoi Kusama – Pumpkin, 2018

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Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist who was born in 1929 – can you work out how old she is? Kusama is sometimes referred to as the ‘princess of polka dots’, and if you look at any of her artwork you can easily see why… Yayoi Kusama is dotty about dots!

What words could you use to describe the pumpkin sculpture? Try to think of 5 different words.

Yayoi Kusama artist profile

Yayoi Kusama is a very versatile artist, meaning she creates artworks which are completely different from each other. Even though she sometimes makes artwork inspired by natural or organic forms such as food, or animals, or makes clothing instead of a painting, Kusama has an instantly recognisable style thanks to her use of bright, vivid colours and dots.

10 Important facts about Yayoi Kusama:

  • Kusama was born on 22nd March 1929
  • She is Japanese
  • Her artwork can be described as Pop Art, Minimalist, Abstract and Surreal
  • Kusama is trained in a traditional Japanese painting style called nihonga
  • Yayoi Kusama’s mother did not support her artistic creativity
  • She has been open about her mental health, voluntarily living in a hospital for the mentally ill and saying that making art has become a way to express her mental illness.
  • Her dotty artwork is inspired by hallucinations she had as a child (fields of flowers would talk to her!)
  • Aged 27, Kusama moved from Japan to New York in America and was influenced by the Pop Art movement throughout the 1960’s.
  • In an interview about her mental health, Yayoi Kusama said “I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieved my illness is to keep creating art.”
  • In August 2021, her pumpkin sculpture got washed into the sea during a tropical storm – it had been there since 1992!
Yayoi Kusama – Pumpkin, 2003
Yayoi Kusama – Pumpkin, 2003

Yayoi Kusama is an abstract artist and her artwork can be described as pop art; it has bright, flat colours and simple patterns added over the top. Abstract artists often make use of pattern in different ways – to confuse the viewer or make their work more complicated. We know that Kusama is often inspired by natural forms objects such as food (the shape of pumpkins or mushrooms is obvious, but she also uses pattern and colour to make her work more abstract).

Kusama always uses dots in her work and the use of dots in different sizes makes the artwork exciting and fun to look at. Each of the dots has been very carefully drawn with paint pens, painted or printed and they are all drawn precisely. Repeating simple shapes carefully is a clever way of making successful pattern work. Most of Kusama’s art only has one colour, meaning they have a monochromatic colour scheme.

Look at the Pumpkin artwork above – why do you think Kusama fills the whole space with colour and patterns? Why do you think she has not left any white or blank spaces?

Infinity Mirrored Room—Love Forever, 1966/1994 Yayoi Kusama
Infinity Mirrored Room – Love Forever, 1966/1994
Yayoi Kusama Dots Obsession—Love Transformed into Dots, 2007
Dots Obsession – Love Transformed into Dots, 2007
Infinity Mirrored Room—Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009
Infinity Mirrored Room – Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009

I have shared a list of other artists inspired by food here – enjoy!

Kusama works in lots of different ways, sometimes she creates paintings or drawings, sometimes clothing and sometimes she decides to create installation artworks. Installations are artworks that fill a whole room / space that visitors can walk around in and experience. Yayoi Kusama is very famous for creating installations called Infinity Mirror Rooms. These are huge rooms, filled with vibrant colours / shapes / dots / objects that have mirrors on each wall. The use of mirrors toys with the viewer’s perspective and creates an illusion of infinity.

Talking about her Infinity Mirror Rooms, Kusama said, “The effect of infinite, constant repetition leads us to finding our ever-expanding hope.”

Watch the clip about Yayoi Kusama below – what materials can you see Yayoi Kusama use to make her work? What are the most interesting facts about her life?

Here are the materials I recommend for you to make artwork like Yayoi Kusama. I generally suggest paying for quality products which will last longer and give you a better finish. Paint pens can last a long time but you will need different sized tips for different details. Why not try sculpting your own pumpkin with modelling clay!

What do you think of Yayoi Kusama’s artwork? How could you describe it? What themes can you see in the artworks? Let me know in the comments!

DOWNLOAD this page below, for free, as an Artist Research handout to use in your lesson. It includes all of the facts and images, and has questions for students to answer.


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