Yayoi Kusama was investigating infinity long before she created the mirrored room installations currently on view at the High Museum. The real showstoppers of the new exhibition are actually the artist’s mixed-media drawings from the 1950s to the 1970s.
When Kusama first came to New York City in 1958, she carried over 2,000 drawings with her, and such drawings long remained the source of the artistic ideas she explored over the next six decades. The drawings are often built with repetitive dots, small circles or open nets, most in intensely saturated color. In opaque watercolors, pastels, inks, gouache, oil and wax on paper and fabric, they introduce the concept of infinity that the artist subsequently sought to capture in sculpture, performance, film, poetry and, of course, installation art.
Kusama’s early drawings display a repetitive and obsessive all-over mark making that is at once a legacy of post abstract expressionist art and a characteristic of the visionary artist. She places dots of color on a dark background, creating a sense of explosion and expansion. There is an extraordinary swelling of form in The Hill (1953), a vertical work with bands of dots in white, yellow and green. Other drawings have the look of molecular structures with their infinite parts in contrasting colors creating mesmerizing circular, fractal-like forms. You can see the roots of Kusama’s use of repetition as a means of expressing her experience of the immensity and endlessness of the universe. For the artist, the microcosmic and the macrocosmic are articulations of the infinite revealed at all levels of the natural world, a place the artist ultimately seeks to transport us to in all of her works.