Fireflies on the Nails

A polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colourful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots can’t stay alone; like the communicative life of people, two or three polka-dots become movement… Polka-dots are a way to infinity.

– Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama is, dare I say it, just that little bit dotty.

Yayoi Kusama, Self-Obliteration by Dots, 1968.

Yayoi Kusama, Alice in Wonderland Happening, 1968.

Yayoi Kusama, Propagating Room, 2009.

Yayoi Kusama, The Obliteration Room, 2011.

Kusama was mentioned in the same breath as Andy Warhol and ran with the likes of Georgia O’Keefe in her hey-day, yet her trademark polka-dot motif is not really Pop Art nor an abstract dissertation on nature and landscape; in fact, it’s quite difficult to square off her peculiar brand of art. Kusama herself once dismissed any association with Surrealism, Minimal Art or Pop Art, emphasizing in an interview “I painted only as I wished…I am absorbed in living my life”, and once you start reading into her background (unloved and unwanted by austere parents; a hyper-excitable childhood extending beyond typical illusions and into visual and aural hallucinations that inspired a life-long fascination with flowers, dots and webs (her “infinity nets”); running off to New York as a 27yo where she claimed her fifteen minutes of fame and lived in squalid conditions in defiance of the disciplinary approach to art in Japan; battling with mental illness for decades before eventually returning to an unsympathetic Japan where her art was not yet appreciated; and, checking herself into a mental hospital in Tokyo where she has lived since 1977 by choice, churning out poetry and novels while foraying into film and fashion design from her Shinjuku studio near the hospital) you begin to realize how undefinable, organic and obsessive her work is, and how brilliant it is that a mind teetering on the edge can find solace in the manifestation of boundless shapes. Her creative explorations are precious and her history lends valuable insight into her art, something of which only a handful of artists can attribute their work to. For Kusama, the inexhaustible art of repetition is relied upon to “obliterate” her fears; in the 1960s, she sewed an array of penis-shaped pieces onto furniture in an attempt to overcome her anxieties about sex and her disgust of the male member (a result of her mother’s doing, who ordered Kusama to spy on her philandering father when she was only a child), and even immersed exhibition rooms with polka-dotted phalluses.

Yayoi Kusama, Compulsion Furniture (Accumulation), 1964.

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field, 1965.

Kusama is now in her 80s and enjoying increasing international recognition for her collages, paintings, soft sculptures and sensory installations after being virtually forgotten by the western art society upon her return to Tokyo in 1973. She has a permanent exhibition at a museum in her hometown of Matsumoto (see here), has had her art more widely displayed in Europe and the US since the 2000s (prior to this, she was prominently featured in Japan and parts of Asia), and is confirmed to collaborate with Louis Vuitton in 2012 (how my wallet gently weeps. I’m still in talks with the devil to sell my soul for the sole ownership of a LV Stephen Sprouse Leopard Stole). Closer to home, she currently has a free exhibition titled Look Now, See Forever showcasing at GOMA in Brisbane that is running until March 2012. The Obliteration Room (pictured above) is part of this exhibition and to create this ridiculous-is-ridiculous installation, Kusama armed children visiting the museum with thousands of coloured stickers and basically invited them to go ape-shit on the fully-furnished gleaming white space with delightfully heartwarming results (more images here).

A worthwhile read on Kusama can be found here.

It would have been easy to slap on some polka-dot nail art and snootily reference dot-obsessed Kusama as the “obscure” inspiration, but to be honest, nail art is mostly overrated, and polka-dot nails are overdone. I chose to preface this otherwise paean-to-polish blog with Kusama because of a recent purchase of the Finger Paints Special Effects collection of flakies that remind me of my favourite installation by Kusama which I will get to in a moment. I alluded to this evasive flakie collection previously and I finally gave in. Yes, this means I’ve only got two more polishes left to buy in 2012 without breaking my resolution (a girlfriend and I visited the Oz Nail Supply warehouse in Braybrook this week and I walked away with a few “oh, I have nothing like this in my collection!” bottles) but STFU, I don’t regret a dollar spent!

Here, I have the dazzling splatter-gasm that is Finger Paints Twisted over China Glaze Liquid Leather. For reference I have one coat each of Orly Bonder Base Coat and Seche Vite Top Coat.

Liquid Leather is a black jelly (creme polish/pigment in a clear base that gives a watery/translucent jelly-like finish which is usually sheer and requires 3-4 coats for VNL-free coverage; however, jellies make up for this sheerness by imparting an extremely glossy finish without the use of a top coat) that doesn’t need many coats to be opaque. I experimented by using two thin coats on my left hand and one thick coat on my right, with both giving the same full and even coverage. The photo of Liquid Leather is shown without top coat – can you see how squishy and shiny it is?! I have not worn black nail polish for almost as long as I have not worn my Kerplunk T-shirt and, until now, have not felt any urge whatsoever to don black on my nubs. But this – this! – is perfect if you are after a sophisticated and classy black that is not a reminder of the chipped black polish that fell dull on your nails which you wore for a term to piss off your high school teachers and their no-polish policy, but rather, more reminiscent of a LBD for your nails. I think black works best if it is glossy and painted on neatly-filed short nails, so please, no flat black talons! This can be found at Oz Nails Supply in Braybrook for $6 AUD.

Twisted, on the other hand, is a flakie (best used for layering, these contain irregular sized flakes suspended in a jelly base; the flakies are often duochrome and stand out more against a deep dark polish like black or blue). A favourite finish for so many polish freaks like me, there was once a shortage of flakies in circulation with only Nfu-Oh leading the way, but Nfu-Oh was unattainable and far too expensive for many, so Sally Hansen (Hidden Treasure) and Nubar (Nubar 2010) took a stab with each creating a flakie that flashed red/orange/green/gold and are now very HTF. Nevertheless, Essie, Zoya and Finger Paints have all released their own breed of flake in the last month and I’m banking on OPI to follow suit and rename the finish to “Opal” or something to that effect (I love you OPI, but your marketing is dubious). Twisted is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Some say it is a worthy contender against Cult Nails Unicorn Puke/ Clairvoyant, but I will never have the honour of swatching up the two for a comparison post owing to its now-mythical status. Twisted is a rainbow motley of – well, do we remember our primary colour triads? There are duochrome flakies reflecting all the primary RYB (Raise Your Bananas! Uh, I mean… red-yellow-blue) and secondary VOG (violet-orange-green) colours (thanks Wiki, glad to have you back from your SOPA black-out) which give off a strong green flash. It applies smoothly and densely as only one coat was needed over Liquid Leather! The overall look is complex and multi-faceted – you can see the irregular flakies catching light and shifting colour with every hand movement. I adore this polish and it is definitely my favourite out of all the Finger Paints flakies that make up the rest of the collection.

And this installation is what this particular manicure reminds me of:

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirror Room – Fireflies on the Water, 2000.

Fireflies on the Water was shown as part of the Yayoi Kusama: Mirrored Years exhibition. I wish I’d seen it. The entrance to the square room was guarded to allow only one person in at a time for a more personal, solitary experience. Can you imagine? A magical room of mirrors placed wall-to-wall with an expansive reflecting pool running underneath a platform runway for visitors to step onto and into the centre of an entirely black room with nothing but the infinity of tiny coloured dots radiating like woodland fireflies to light the way, mirrored in every direction. Spellbinding. Astonishingly, there were only 150 strands of coloured lights dangling from the ceiling to create this otherworldly masterpiece. This is exactly what my nails look like to me when I find myself staring at them in between the minutiae of a working day. “I am just another dot in the world,” says Yayoi Kusama, and now we know just how three-dimensional, endless and enthralling these dots can really be.

Polka dots, the trademark of “Kusama Happening.” Red, green and yellow polka dots can be the circles representing the earth, the sun, or the moon. Their shapes and what they signify do not really matter. I paint polka dots on the bodies of people, and with those polka dots, the people will self-obliterate and return to the nature of the universe.

– Yayoi Kusama

PSA: I am in no way an art student, not a creative bone is found in my body, and I was only introduced to Kusama when an old friend sent me a self-directed five-minute documentary a year ago about David Humphries (an Australian artist who has been commissioned to create sculptures from Kusama’s drawings as part of Kusama’s public art mural in Brisbane), so haters don’t be all “you know nothing about art, hurr durr hurr”, ’cause yeah, duh, I know; you mistake me for someone who doesn’t possess a painfully astounding self-awareness. xd