Yayoi Kusama by Grady Turner

Nov 7, 2012 5:41PM

From:  BOMB 66/Winter 1999

Grady Turner: There has been so much interest in your life story as a result of your retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Do you ever fear people may be interested in your biography at the expense of your art? 

Yayoi Kusama: No, I have no such fear. My artwork is an expression of my life, particularly of my mental disease. 

GT: We are conducting this interview by fax because you live in a mental institution in Tokyo. Is it true you committed yourself? 

YK: I was hospitalized at the mental hospital in Tokyo in 1975 where I have resided ever since. I chose to live here on the advice of a psychiatrist. He suggested I paint pictures in the hospital while undergoing medical treatment. This happened after I had been traveling through Europe, staging my fashion shows in Rome, Paris, Belgium, and Germany. 

GT: Even though you are institutionalized, you are a prolific writer and artist. Where do you work? 

YK: I work at my condominium-turned-studio near the hospital as well as at a studio I’ve been renting for some years, which is just a few minutes walk from the hospital. I also created a large sculpture in the big yard of the hospital—a store-bought rowboat completely covered with stuffed canvas protuberances. I have made about 500 or 600 large sculptures so far. 

GT: Do you still work around the clock for days at a time, as you did in the 1960s? Or is your work routine different now? 

YK: I work very hard even now, but probably not as hard as I did when I was in New York. 

GT: You say your art is an expression of your mental illness. How so? 

YK: My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings. All my works in pastels are the products of obsessional neurosis and are therefore inextricably connected to my disease.