Yayoi Kusama’s name is synonymous with two things: polka dots and pumpkins. Since first exhibiting Mirror Room (Pumpkin) at Venice Biennale in 1993, pumpkins of all sizes covered in dots have proliferated in her work. Now an exhibition dedicated to the artist’s small-scale paintings of pumpkins will take place at London’s Omer Tiroche Gallery from 1 March to 1 June.
Pumpkins have been a recurring motif in Kusama’s work. She first experimented with them when studying at the Kyoto School of Arts and Crafts in the 1940s. She later left the school in pursuit of more avant-garde styles, but the pumpkins stayed with her, becoming an obsession. The symbolism of the pumpkin is also deeply personal for the artist: Kusama’s family lived off pumpkin dishes throughout her youth.
The pumpkin Kusama uses in her work is the Japanese Kabocha squash, which, when severed at the stalk, will continue to grow and ripen. It’s often said that Kusama’s continual use of the design is representative of her present psychological state and an attempt to control her fears – their repetition offering a sense of familiarity and the ever-present polka dots mirroring hallucinations that began when she was only ten years old. Speaking on her love for the motif in the show’s press release, Kusama said, “I was enchanted by their charming and winsome form. What appealed to me most was the pumpkin’s generous unpretentiousness. That and its solid spiritual base.”
Yayoi Kusama: Small Pumpkin Paintings is the first exhibition of 2018 at Omer Tiroche Gallery. You can find out more here