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Flowers

This unofficial collection of Yayoi Kusama’s gathers prints depicting flowers. Whether filling the page, pictured in a planted row, or gathered in a still-life of a bouquet, the flowers are celebratory in their colour, and playful simplicity, and depicted as ever in Kusama’s signature dots against net-patterned backdrops.

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Meaning & Analysis

Flowers dominate Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s art, often with an emphasis on their many alien-like forms and garish colours. This unofficial collection of Yayoi Kusama’s gathers prints depicting flowers: a mixture of mostly screen prints, and a few lithographic impressions.

Yayoi Kusama has a mixed relationship with flowers. They figured frequently in the artist’s childhood hallucinations, thus are an object possessed of uncanny terror. For example, she recounts, “‘I found myself trembling ... with fear, amid flowers incarnate, which had appeared all of a sudden. I was surrounded by several hundreds of violets ... chatting among themselves just like human beings.” Yet in keeping with Kusama’s undeterred fascination with all that has haunted her in hallucinations— patterns, dots, flowers— as subjects of wonder and mystical power, she chooses nevertheless to include them in her works.

Different species of flora have their own symbolic connotations, yet many of these are mixed: the same species might connote both life and death, or love and rejection. Kusama exaggerates this ambivalence by colouring her species however she chooses, representing all the varieties in a vase the same colour in Flowers 1-5, thereby obscuring their particularities and possible meanings. Overall, however, flowers are a particularly strong symbol of metamorphosis and seasonal change in Japan, home to the Sakura (cherry blossom) season after all, and thus reflect this dominant theme in Yayoi Kusama’s oeuvre.

In recent years, since the 2010s, Kusama has created several large scale, installation-based sculptures, such as Flowers that Bloom at Midnight and Flowers that Bloom Tomorrow and Flowers That Speak All About My Heart Given To The Sky. These sculptures, crafted in a mix of painted fibreglass and metal, loom above the viewer, weird and wonderful, with starkly unnaturalistic dotted petals and colours. Though they are fundamentally in the same vein as her flower on canvas or in print, in that they are a polished version of childishly drawn flora, they err on the more threatening side. In their large, somewhat monstrous, size, they seem to make more direct reference to the ‘obliterating’, overwhelming, flowers of Kusama’s hallucinations.

Whether filling the page, pictured in a planted row, or gathered in a still-life of a bouquet, Kusama’s flowers in print are more mundane than monstrous. They are celebratory rather than otherworldly in their vivid colour palette— dominated by the more naturalistic hues of red, green and yellow—and playful simplicity and are pictured against net-patterned backdrops, grounded and proportionate.

10 Facts About Yayoi Kusama's Flowers

Yayoi Kusama’s Flower B. A screenprint of a flower comprising various shades of blue and orange polka dots against a yellow, geometric background.

Flower B © Yayoi Kusama 2005

1. A bold approach to floral design

Kusama's approach to depicting flowers is as audacious as it is unique. She often opts for unconventional colour palettes, distancing her works from what would be typically associated with floral design. Her choice in unexpected hues challenges the viewer's perception and understanding of the flowers, often obscuring their distinct characteristics and intrinsic meanings. While Kusama's hallmark dots and infinity net patterns are prominently featured in her flower works, they are executed in a manner that is quintessentially Kusama, yet refreshingly novel.

Flowers 1 © Yayoi Kusama 1985

2. They were exhibited at David Zwirner

I Spend Each Day Embracing Flowers introduced a spectrum of new works by the artist including her massive, kaleidoscopic flower sculptures. These pieces, immense in scale and bursting with vibrant colour, transformed the gallery into a mesmerising playground of flora. The choice of the exhibition's name was a fitting homage to these stunning centrepieces, emphasising Kusama's deep-rooted connection to nature in her artistry. The exhibition also featured a new infinity room in addition to Kusama’s treasured polka dot and pumpkin works.

Yayoi Kusama’s Flowers, Kusama 83. A screenprint of four flowers made up of patterns of green, red, and yellow against a pink and black geometric background.

Flowers, Kusama 83 © Yayoi Kusama 1985

3. They depict the artist's central themes

Kusama's flower sculptures, celebrated for their immersive and interactive qualities, often invite viewers to engage in a spatial dialogue with the artworks. The intention behind the interactive design stems from her philosophical theme of self-obliteration – a dissolution of the self into the endless repetition and rhythm of patterns. As viewers navigate through these vibrantly dotted, oversized flora, they experience a moment where the boundaries between self and the other become blurred. Consequently, these physically engaging experiences foster reflections on unity, existence, and the infinite themes visited by Kusama throughout her career.

Yayoi Kusama’s Night Flowers A. A screenprint of five purple flowers made up of polka dots against a darker, purple geometric background.

Night Flowers A © Yayoi Kusama 2003