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FULL EPISODE

Yayoi Kusama: My Immortal Soul

Though Yayoi Kusama's career is in its sixth decade, she's experiencing a surge in popularity that can only be described as viral. Her instagrammable exhibitions are marked by motifs of polka dots, pumpkins and rooms of mirrors, which are based on hallucinations she's had since childhood. In this documentary, Kusama paints in real time and discusses her life and art.

AIRED: April 22, 2019 | 0:30:00
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TRANSCRIPT

Narrator: The avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama.

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Still today, she follows

an intense regime of painting every day in Tokyo.

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Renowned as the Polka Dot Princess,

she's had exhibitions at art museums

throughout the world.

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Kusama has garnered attention not only in Europe and America,

but in Asia, Latin America, and Russia, as well.

For this program, we used 8K ultra high-definition technology

to record the making of a painting

from the moment of inception to its completion.

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The camera has captured Kusama's graceful brushwork

and the intensity with which she engages her art.

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Woman: ♪ My broken ear

♪ Music on canvas

♪ Right on the shelves

Narrator: On the first day of filming,

a yellow canvas was carried into her studio.

It was a large canvas, 2 meters square.

Having decided on colors,

she immediately begins to paint what comes to mind.

She never makes a rough sketch.

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Once Kusama sits down at the canvas,

she simply continues to paint.

The power of concentration belies her 87 years.

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In 2009, Kusama began

a series of paintings called "My Eternal Soul."

By the spring of 2016,

she had completed 500 paintings in the series.

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Kusama has been producing paintings

at the astonishing pace of two to three each week.

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Kusama's work shows an endearing,

pop-infected use of color.

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A profusion of eyeballs shines through the darkness.

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She covers all corners of her canvasses with images

that come spontaneously to her mind.

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Kusama spends about eight hours a day

nearly every day in front of a canvas.

[ Conversing in Japanese ]

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On day two, work continued in a different studio.

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Kusama didn't like the details

she painted along the edge the previous day,

so she boldly covered them all with pink.

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In the pink borders of the painting,

she began to draw eyeballs.

Eyeballs are an element

that frequently appears in Kusama's paintings.

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Kusama paints each one with care.

Soon, the canvas is covered with innumerable eyeballs.

♪ My right hand

♪ Speaks of nothing so important ♪

♪ My right hand

♪ Speaks of nothing invading me ♪

♪ My right hand

♪ Speaks of nothing so important ♪

♪ Hey, hey, hey

♪ My right hand

♪ Speaks of nothing

♪ Invading me

♪ Hey, hey, hey

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Narrator: What Kusama turned to next

was painting her trademark polka dots.

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Kusama loved drawing pictures from an early age.

She dreamed of being an artist when she grew up.

When she was a child, she began seeing visions of polka dots.

She made this pencil drawing of her mother when she was 10.

It is covered with countless polka dots.

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Kusama now lives in a psychiatric hospital

from which she commutes to her studio during the day.

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After painting polka dots for a long while,

Kusama began to paint an entirely different image.

She fills the canvas with images just as they spring to mind,

completing the painting one area after another.

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♪ Last century

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♪ Last century

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Narrator: Eight hours after beginning to paint,

the day's work came to an end

and Kusama returned to the hospital.

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"Pumpkin" is one of Kusama's representative works.

Pumpkins were a comforting presence

when Kusama began to hallucinate as a young girl.

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"Love Forever" is a series drawn

on large canvasses with pigment markers.

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At 75, Kusama began making series of paintings

on large canvasses,

a project that continues now with "My Eternal Soul."

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On the sixth day of work on the painting,

Kusama began to paint the mesh of a knit.

Along with polka dots, the knit is a motif

that Kusama has returned to repeatedly for 50 years.

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After graduating from art school in Kyoto,

Kusama moved to New York on her own in 1958.

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She put everything on the line to find out how well her talents

would stand up on the world's cutting-edge art scene.

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It was this series that brought attention to Kusama's work.

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The persistent repetition of the meshes of a net

stretching into infinity.

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The product of prodigious concentration and patience,

the extraordinary realm it created

had great impact on the contemporary art scene.

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However, Kusama fell ill and returned to Japan in 1973.

She continued to work as an artist,

but the Japanese art world paid little attention to her.

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Kusama became obsessed with thoughts of death.

She repeatedly contemplated suicide,

and she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

But through it all, she never stopped painting.

♪ All night long

♪ All night long

♪ All night long

♪ All night long

Man: Field

We are in the electronic field

Woman: We've recorded natural sounds

Narrator: Kusama continues painting without rest.

This day, she ended up working at the canvas all day

without once taking a break.

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The first thing in the morning on this day,

Kusama fretted over a large red circle

at the center of the painting.

Kusama tells her assistant to stand the canvas upright.

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The red circle is transformed into a powerful image

that suggests flames or the sun.

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Then she outlines the image with a black border.

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La, la, la, la, la

♪ La, la, la, la

♪ La, la, la, la

♪ La, la, la, la

♪ La, la, la, la, la

She paints with complete focus.

What spurs her on is her fixation on creativity.

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The 420th painting in the series

"My Eternal Soul" has been completed.

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♪ Check

♪ Check

♪ Ch-ch-ch-check

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Narrator: The sun in the middle

was intentionally not painted upon.

The images that radiate from the center cover the canvas

in a dense array.

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Woman: Ashes from a window

Lay on the floor

The title Kusama chose for the painting she just completed...

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Kusama wants to continue painting as long as

she is alive to leave behind her work forever

as evidence of having lived.

"My Eternal Soul."

Yayoi Kusama's battle continues today.

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