'Kusama balances the bonkers with the beautiful'

Talks of a Flower Garden, 2015, by Yayoi Kusama (b.1929), 6¼ft by 6¼ft, Private Collection

Abi Morgan says:
A few months ago, I watched a documentary about the inspiring Yayoi Kusama. Still painting and creating at 87, Kusama balances the bonkers with the beautiful. She pulls you into her paintings and her vivid, magical world. Talks of a Flower Garden is just one of any of her paintings I could have chosen, but embodies all that I love about her. A bold and breathtaking use of colour and form, yet there is fragility and tenderness there. She inspires. Such life. But more than that—she makes me smile.

Abi Morgan is a stage and screen writer. Her new series of monologues, Four Days, will be performed at the MS Society Christmas Concert at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, EC4, on December 8. For tickets, visit www.barbican.org.uk

John McEwen comments:
In 1959, a penniless Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, newly arrived in new York, sold a painting, No. 2, to Donald Judd, a student (later the famous Minimalist sculptor), for $200. In 2008, it sold at auction for $5.1 million, the record for a living female artist. In 2015, she was voted the world’s most popular artist, based on museum attendance, her mirrored installations and obsession for polka-dotting every surface popular with adults and children alike.

She was born into a rich market-gardening family. Traumatised by a patriarchal feudal upbringing and tyrannical mother, she found solace sketching flowers. After wartime forced labour making parachutes and military uniforms, she rebelled against her parents and became an artist. At 30, she moved to new York without English or contacts.

The late 1950s proved perfect timing as she engaged with the experimental stirrings of pop, performance, installation and multi-media art. She blossomed, notorious not least for nude happenings. nonetheless, she remained susceptible to breakdowns. In 1973, she returned to Japan, where she launched a parallel writing career. Since 1977, she has chosen to live in Tokyo’s Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill near her art factory, where she works daily with assistants.

This painting is from a continuing series ‘My Eternal Soul’, in which images are freely associated, some relating to her earliest obsession with flowers. Fans queue overnight for her shows. ‘If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago.’ now, she says. ‘I want to live two or three hundred years to do all the things I want to do.’