Japanese avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama, whose work commands some of the highest prices of any living female artist, said on Tuesday that at age 88, she still fills her days painting and has no intention of slowing down.
Long known for her obsessive, dot-covered art and pumpkin motifs, as well as the use of mirrors to create mystical “Infinity Rooms”, Kusama, whose exhibitions have been among the hottest tickets in the art world this year, is now opening a museum in downtown Tokyo dedicated to her paintings and sculptures.
But the diminutive Kusama, one of whose paintings sold for $7.1 million in 2014 – close to the record for a living woman artist – refuses to take it easy.
“From age five or 10, I’ve been painting, from morning to night. Even now, there isn’t a single day when I‘m not painting,” she told a small group of journalists at her studio, where completed canvases in her typical bright colors stood piled against the walls and spots of paint dot the gray wall-to-wall carpeting.
Laid over two tables, a barely begun azure canvas bore lines of linked eyes in black paint.
Kusama left for New York at 27, where she made a name for herself with her painting, its motifs inspired by the hallucinations of flashing lights, dots and flowers she has seen since childhood.
She also wrote, took part in anti-war activities typical of the 1960s, and influenced artists such as Andy Warhol.
She has said that New York gave her neuroses. Around 1977, a few years after returning to Japan, she voluntarily entered a mental hospital and still lives there, being driven to her nearby studio each morning.
“I still see hallucinations even now,” said Kusama, wearing her trademark scarlet wig and an orange and black dress derived from her artwork.
“Dots come flying everywhere – on my dress, the floor, things I‘m carrying, throughout the house, the ceiling. And I paint them.”
The dots that have helped make her name are present throughout the museum, which opens on Oct 1 – including in the toilet, where mirrors amplify their impact.
Other works, all chosen by Kusama, include detailed black line drawings and a fairytale-like “Infinity Room” filled with glowing pumpkins.
Kusama, who remarked that she hates war but avoided comment about current affairs, said she hopes her art will make a positive contribution to the world.
“In every way, I want to pour my love into humanity, and for a wonderful society without war,” she said.