Making My Peace … with being dotty (polka dotty)
When I saw the monumental sculpture of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama in Paris and her signature iconic polka dots, I knew I was looking at a kindred spirit – we are both dotty – polka dotty.
Being ‘dotty’ has all kinds of connotations, such as eccentric, slightly mad, or silly. Maybe so, but it’s also a fashion and artistic trend that recurs throughout history – to some people’s annoyance and to other people’s enjoyment.
Avant-garde Japanese artist, sculptor, and author, 93-year-old Yayoi Kusama, born in 1929, began her polka dot obsession from the age of ten. When she was 27, she lived in America, where she commenced her artistic career. She suffered exhaustion, hallucinations, asthma, arrhythmia, tachycardia, and bouts of high and low blood pressure, attributed to a ‘toxic’ childhood and the death of her friend, New York artist and film-maker, Joseph Cornell in 1972.
Diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and severe neurosis in the mid-1970s, she painted the same thing every day: repetitive patterns.
Dots in the dream-state can represent a period, a full stop, a completion, an ending, a thought to be continued, circles, or new opportunities, to name a few connotations. In a 2010 video, Yayoi Kusama said,
‘A polka dot has the form of a sun, which is the symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colourful, senseless, and unknowing. Polka dots become movement … Polka dots are a way to infinity.’
Yayoi Kusama admitted herself into a psychiatric hospital in the mid-1970s and established an art studio nearby. She still lives in the psychiatric hospital, by choice, and still paints, by obsession.
In her 2002 autobiography Infinity Net, about her obsession with painting nets on black canvasses, and infinity dots, she openly discusses her mental anguishes. Her art was her means of ‘obliterating’ her fears:
‘I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieves my illness is to keep creating art … if it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago.’
She describes her work as Psychosomatic Art. She makes her own peace, and gains ground in life, by managing the neuroses that drives her art as a way to exterminate her fears: ‘The positive and negative become one and consolidate my expression,’ she writes. Nevertheless, she added that ‘to tell the truth, to this day, I do not feel that I have “made it” as an artist.’
It’s an insightful, poignant, and exceptionally honest book about her creative mind, especially how she fully comprehends her triggers, and how she deals with her demons – initially personally and then with the assistance of professional psychiatrists.
Yayoi Kusama concludes her 2002 memoir in a calm, reflective state of mind, content to continue her art, because she needs to, because she has to, because she wants to, and because it keeps her alive.
Making my peace with being dotty (polka dotty), I learned the following:
- Art is therapeutic
- Art is expression
- Fears come and go, art remains
- Dots are infinitive
- Dots are universal across all cultures
- Dots are childlike and fun
- Repetition is constant, conforming, and comforting