Q&A: Yayoi Kusama, Pop Artist

The subject of a retrospective at the Whitney Museum opening this week talks about her beyond-prolific career and new collaboration with Louis Vuitton.

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WWD: How have you managed to be so prolific?
When I decided to go to the States, I burned all of my paintings from the previous 10 years. I didn’t want my family to throw them away because they were against the idea of me becoming an artist. I don’t know why I am so prolific. You should ask my hands. When I paint, some things come out and I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I have such talent as a painter. I am so happy about that. Here in New York, so many people are happy to see me. It moves me a lot. I don’t know where my energy comes from. It’s my hands that create faster than my head. It’s just the way it is.

WWD: Do you have a favorite memory of New York?
When I went to Central Park and took the rowboats out or went to the beach in Southampton and swam in the sea. I had a lot of fun with Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. It was one of the best times in my life.

WWD: You once said that had it not been for art you would have killed yourself. Do you still feel that way?
I feel that way exactly. There’s not one day that I don’t think about death. The fact that I paint helps me to keep these ideas away and continue.

WWD: Why do you choose to live in the psychiatric hospital?
Because I am sick. It is difficult for me to be alone and I feel relaxed being surrounded by people.

WWD: In the Sixties, you stayed in a hospital due to overworking. Now that you live in a hospital, you seem to be working more than ever. How is that so?
I think that if I didn’t live in the hospital, I couldn’t continue painting. I have hallucinations and these symptoms. The fact that I feel safe in my surrounding allows me to keep painting.

WWD: There was a Kusama collection sold at Bloomingdale’s in the Eighties. Do you see this as a new incarnation of the fashion segment of your career?
I was selling some fashion clothes at that time, but I have been making things since I was very little. Be it a sculpture or be it clothes, for me it is the same thing. It’s my creation. I don’t see any difference. It is part of my art. I have written poems…

WWD: Do you think art needs to be more commercial or to have corporate support from companies like Louis Vuitton in order to reach more people?
I will be an artist until the end of my life. If with the power of art, we can touch the hearts of people, it’s a wonderful thing so why not with the help of business. In that sense for me, business can also be a sort of art especially in the fashion world.

WWD: Why do you think you and Marc Jacobs get along so well?
Marc Jacobs came to see me in Tokyo in 2006 and he asked me if I wanted to come to the States and do fashion. That sort of encouraged me. At that time, I was writing poems and novels. Fashion has always attracted me, not only when I was living in New York but also when I was five. I created this T-shirt that was half red and half white. For me, it was a sculpture. I was so honored when Marc came to see me in Tokyo. I still have a photo of that visit hanging on the wall of my studio. We are standing with one of my creations, this huge pumpkin, between us.

WWD: How do you define beauty?
It’s myself. The definition of beauty is me.…In this world full of terrorism, war and things like that, I think art helps a lot. But I also think that fashion, like what Louis Vuitton does, helps a lot because it proposes a view of beauty to the world. The most important thing in the world is peace, happiness and love because the world around us has such hatred. If I can contribute as an artist, that is how I would like to use my life. I think as an artist I can deliver messages.


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