Halloween is right around the corner, and for once, we’re not prepping our costumes or stocking up on candy. For obvious reasons, things are a little different this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get excited about the fall season and all that comes with it. One quintessential symbol of autumn is pumpkins and there is one art-girl favourite who is a little bit obsessed with them! Yayoi Kusama has been painting pumpkins for decades and she is almost as famous for squash as she is for dots. But why are there so many pumpkins in her work? Well my friends, let us tell you!
Pumpkins are loveable, and their wonderfully wild and humorous atmosphere never ceases to capture the hearts of people. I adore pumpkins…As my spiritual home since childhood, and with their infinite spirituality they contribute to the peace of mankind across the world…they make me feel at peace. pumpkins bring about poetic peace in my mind. – Yayoi Kusama, On Pumpkins
When Kusama was just 10, she suffered from hallucinations that involved dots, flowers, light flashes and…pumpkins! While the majority of these hullicinations were frightening, the pumpkins comforted little Kusama. There is also another important connection between Kusama’s childhood and pumpkins: growing up during World War II, Kusama’s family owned a large supply of pumpkins. These squash not only fed her family, but much of Matsumoto in Japan where she lived. No wonder they were such a source of comfort!
Kusama made her first pumpkin painting when she was a teenager and her first squash was exhibited in 1946 in Japan. It was praised as an example of Nihonga – a traditional style of Japanese painting, and probably vastly different to the dotty pumpkins we’re all familiar with today. Kusama’s pumpkins didn’t make a big appearance in her work until the 1970s, and they have not left since. Ten years later in the 1980s Kusama’s pumpkins got the dot-treatment, appearing in prints and drawings covered in spots.
In 1991 Kusama created an environmental installation called Mirror Room (Pumpkin) in Tokyo, which went on to be exhibited at the 1993 Venice Biennale. The lucky attendees at the biennale left with their own miniature takeaway pumpkins and we bet they’re worth $$$ now.
One of Kusama’s most famous pumpkins rests on Naoshima Island. The giant yellow and black squash is a favourite with insta-loving tourists to Japan. She has also created many more mirror rooms dedicated to the pumpkin as well as several travelling open-air installations that have appeared all over the world.
So, the use of repetition throughout Kusama’s work is a way of relieving her anxiety, with pumpkins acting as a source of comfort in her hallucinations. And thanks to Yayoi Kusama, we have a big arty reason to love those squashes in the autumn even more!
Text Lizzy Vartanian