Archive: cute
Cute or dark and frightening? You decide

Cute or dark and frightening? You decide

Yoshitomo Nara - Yellow in Blue, 1994, acrylic on canvas, 180 x 150 cm
Yoshitomo Nara – Yellow in Blue, 1994, acrylic on canvas, 180 x 150 cm

Yoshitomo Nara was born in Hirosaki, Japan in 1959 and is a Japanese artist whose work has been exhibited around the world. He lives and works in Tokyo, and Japanese popular culture plays an influential role in his world. Nara studied at the Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music where he received his B.F.A. (1985) and an M.F.A. (1987). He also studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, in Germany between 1988 and 1993.

The work has several influences including manga and anime of the 1960s as seen in Nara’s large-eyed figures. He challenges these characteristically cute images by juxtaposing them with dark and frightening imagery. This infusion of horror changes the image altogether, the contrast of the innocent large eyed child with the imagery of human evil may be a response to Japan’s strict social conventions. Other influences of Nara’s work include punk rock music, Renaissance painting, ukiyo-e and graffiti.

The artist grew up in post-World War II Japan, and the sociocultural environment at this time certainly affected his mindset and artwork. During his childhood and youth, Japan was being barraged by Western pop culture. Nara was raised in the countryside, fairly isolated, and as the child of two working-class parents, he was often left alone while his parents were at work. This time alone with his imagination played a significant role in his artistic development.

His first major New York Exhibition “Nobody’s Fool“ in 2010 at the Asia Society featured over one hundred works from the 1980s to his current works. His work features ceramics, drawings, paintings, sculptures, and large-scale installations. Nara is one of the leading artists of Japan’s influential Neo Pop art, and has become infamous for his portrayals of children and animals. Although the children and animals he creates are adorable they are often menacing, causing viewers to contemplate the feelings and concepts behind his work. Underneath the popular appeal of the dark but adorable characters in his work are the somber social, political, and personal elements of his work: darker emotions of loneliness in a rigid society, rage, fear, and helplessness. Nara uses soft pastels and the apiece of cute and vulnerable children and animals as opposed to punk rock imagery. He also takes inspiration from the positive values of Japanese tradition and combines traditional with contemporary. The subjects of his work, the wide-eyed children and animals, whose vulnerability and in addition to the nightmarish features of his paintings can easily stimulate distressing feelings. He often uses soft hued, pastel colors with bold lines as seen in anime characters in popular culture. The children featured in Nara’s works sometimes wield weapons such as knives and saws; their expressions are haunting, their eyes giving viewers accusatory looks. It is with his use of contrasting images, colors, and emotions that Nara’s work has captured the imaginations of generations around the world.

Yoshitomo Nara - Night Walker, 2001
Yoshitomo Nara – Night Walker, 2001

Yoshitomo Nara - No Means No, 1995, 55 x 65cm (21 5/8 x 25 9/16in), acrylic on canvas
Yoshitomo Nara – No Means No, 1995, acrylic on canvas, 55x65cm

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