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Yoshitomo
Nara

One of Japan’s best-known contemporary living artists, Yoshitomo Nara’s complex, cartoonish portraits of children encourage us to search for deeper meaning whilst garnering a cult-like fanbase. Whether you're looking to buy or sell one of Nara's original prints and editions, browse our network's most in demand works. Receive complimentary valuations and market advice on any original print, with zero obligation to sell.

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Biography

Perhaps Japan’s best known living artist, Yoshitomo Nara’s art is instantly recognisable. His iconic yet seemingly simple paintings, sculptures and drawings take influence from cartoons, music and his own life. Best known are his paintings of children; sometimes sad, sometimes sinister, these figures enjoy a global cult popularity and following, and reflective market pricing.

Born and raised in northern Japan, Nara is said to have had a lonely childhood, seeking comfort in music and animals. After pursuing a fine art education in Japan, Nara relocated to Germany from 1988 and became absorbed by Neo-Expressionism and punk rock. Both would go on to inform his artistic style.

After 12 years in Germany, Nara returned to Japan. The artist first enjoyed notoriety as a part of his home country’s Pop Art movement of the 1990s, creating simple artworks depicting cartoon-like characters.

A 1995 solo show with Tokyo’s SCAI the Bathhouse gallery marked a turning point in Nara’s career; hosted by LA based gallery Blum and Poe, the show was America's introduction to Nara. Through artworks like his In The Deepest Puddle, the exhibition brought together many of the signature themes found throughout his later work: loneliness, childhood anxiety and rebellion. Since then, Nara has had almost 40 solo exhibitions and his works feature in the collections of some of the most renowned museums in the world, from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to The Museum of Modern Art.

Today, Nara’s work is massively popular, enjoying a cult-like status that transcends age, culture, or location. Critics attribute the popularity of Nara’s work to his transmission of nostalgia and angst through childlike figures. Despite their appearance, the emotions portrayed could be applicable to anyone from anywhere. Art critic Robert Smith described Nara’s work as 'high, low and kitsch; East and West; grown-up, adolescent and infantile.'

A figure seen again and again throughout Nara’s work is a young girl with almond shaped eyes and brown hair, often depicted with a single straight line for a mouth and her chin sulkily pushed forward. We see her seated in a blue dress in his 1995 work Hothouse Doll, which sold at auction in 2019 for $13.2 million, and again in Midnight Truth (2017) where she stares out at the viewer, challenging them unblinkingly.

Knife Behind Back by Yoshitomo Nara

Image © Sotheby's / Knife Behind Back © Yoshitomo Nara 2000

1. £20.2M for Yoshitomo Nara's Knife Behind Back

Setting a record for the most expensive work by Japanese Pop Artist Yoshitomo Nara, in October 2019 Knife Behind Back (2000) sold for an astounding HK$195,696,000 (roughly equivalent to £20,229,095) at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.

A standout example of Nara’s work, the large-scale piece depicts one of the artist’s signature, cartoon-like figures – a small girl with intense, piercing eyes – as she stares back towards the viewer. With an unmistakable expression of anger on her face, the young girl is rendered in a muted colour palette of red, brown, green, and cream tones.

Establishing Nara as the most expensive Japanese artist of all time, the sale saw Knife Behind Back smash its sale record by almost 5 times.

Nice to See you again by Yoshitomo Nara

Image © Sotheby's / Nice to See You Again ©Yoshitomo Nara 1996

2. £11.4M for Yoshitomo Nara's Nice To See You Again

Significantly outperforming its pre-sale estimate of US$8,000,000-$12,000,000, Nice To See You Again realised an eye-watering US$15,430,800 at auction at Sotheby’s New York in November 2021. Executed in 1996 by Japanese Pop Art icon Yoshitomo Nara, the painting, which measures 180 by 150 cm, depicts one of the artist’s signature motifs: a young girl with short brown hair and glaring, elliptical green eyes. The second most expensive work by the artist, Nice To See You Again serves as visual and material evidence of Nara’s status as the highest-value Japanese artist of all time.

Oddly Cozy by Yoshitomo Nara

Image © Sotheby's / Oddly Cozy © Yoshitomo Nara 2013

3. £11.4M for Yoshitomo Nara's Oddly Cozy

Measuring 6 feet in length, this painting masterfully evokes the calm and tranquility that it is named for. Yoshitomo Nara's 2013 Oddly Cozy both mesmerises and pacifies the viewer, depicting a little girl wearing a placid expression, her intergalactic golden eyes sparkling luminously. The 2011 Japanese earthquake marked a significant transformation in Nara's artistic process, and it shows in Oddly Cozy.

Oddly Cozy sold for £11.4million at Sotheby's Contemporary Evening Auction in Hong Kong, surpassing its lowest estimate of £8 million.

Missing in Action by Yoshitomo Nara

Image © Christies 's / Missing in Action © Yoshitomo Nara 2000