How to Paint Like Yayoi Kusama, the Avant-Garde Japanese Artist

When Yay­oi Kusama first arrived in New York, in the late nine­teen-fifties, she must have sensed that she was in a prac­ti­cal­ly ide­al time and place to make abstract art. That would explain why she sub­se­quent­ly began cre­at­ing a series of large paint­ings we now know as Infin­i­ty Nets, all of which con­sist sole­ly of pat­terns of pol­ka dots — or at least what look like pat­terns, and what look like pol­ka dots, when viewed from a dis­tance. Up close, there’s some­thing quite dif­fer­ent going on, some­thing alto­geth­er more organ­ic, irreg­u­lar, and ever-shift­ing. and the best method of under­stand­ing it is to pick up a brush and paint an infin­i­ty net of your own.

You can learn how to do that by watch­ing the video above, which comes from Cours­era and the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art’s online course “In the Stu­dio: Post­war Abstract Paint­ing.” In it, painter Corey D’Au­gus­tine goes through all the steps of exe­cut­ing a fin­ished can­vas in the style of Kusama’s Infin­i­ty Nets, which requires lit­tle con­ven­tion­al tech­ni­cal skill, but a great deal of patience.

D’Au­gus­tine sug­gests that you “lose your­self in the ser­i­al activ­i­ty” of paint­ing all these tiny shapes “as a way to qui­et the mind.” Get deep enough into it, and “you won’t be think­ing about your job or your chil­dren or what­ev­er it is, what­ev­er kind of stress­es you have on your mind nor­mal­ly.

This ther­a­peu­tic view isn’t a mil­lion miles from what Kusama has said of her own moti­va­tions for cre­at­ing art. Even before launch­ing into the Infin­i­ty Nets prop­er, she was paint­ing pol­ka-dot fields out of inspi­ra­tion giv­en to her by the hal­lu­ci­na­tions she’d been suf­fer­ing since the age of ten. Now, at the age of 94, she’s long been a world-renowned artist, one who vol­un­tar­i­ly resides at a men­tal-health facil­i­ty when not at work in her stu­dio fur­ther explor­ing the very same visu­al con­cepts with which she began. You can learn more about Kusama’s life from the mate­r­i­al we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, and if you want to go all the way into her world, there’s always her auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Infin­i­ty Net.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Yay­oi Kusama, Obsessed with Pol­ka Dots, Became One of the Most Rad­i­cal Artists of All Time

The MoMA Teach­es You How to Paint Like Pol­lock, Rothko, de Koon­ing & Oth­er Abstract Painters

New Hilma af Klint Doc­u­men­tary Explores the Life & Art of the Trail­blaz­ing Abstract Artist

Japan­ese Com­put­er Artist Makes “Dig­i­tal Mon­dri­ans” in 1964: When Giant Main­frame Com­put­ers Were First Used to Cre­ate Art

Wabi-Sabi: A Short Film on the Beau­ty of Tra­di­tion­al Japan

Steve Mar­tin on How to Look at Abstract Art

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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