I was quite excited about tackling Yayoi Kusama with the kids because I find her to be a very interesting human being to learn from. Most people are aware of her madness and know of her obsessive art expression but something that I admire about her is how she has turned her psychological challenges into a successful career and a grand display of beauty.
I own a set of Yayoi Kusama prints which I bought in National Gallery Singapore a couple of years back which I had framed and are now hanging on a wall in our home. I let the kids look closely at them and asked what they could see in the shapes and patterns. Summer said they look like how bits of food look like under a microscope, Emma said she saw faces and Jo said circles and squares.
Yayoi’s obsession with dots and intricate pattern is her own personal way of dealing with the complexities, not only of her life, but also of her own mind. Art is very obviously therapy to her. And until this very day, despite her having to stay in a mental institution in Japan, she continues to create.
I believe these are very valuable things to learn not only for us adults but for kids too. First, nobody should ever feel like they are too sick, or too awkward, or even too young (or too old!) to make art or accomplish things. Second, art can very possibly be a way to heal and help ourselves stay healthy. By claiming our freedom to express ourselves and using it, like Kusama does, to release emotion, deal with our inner struggles or make sense of our lives and surroundings, we are caring for our being. Art is really one way to understand ourselves and the world a little bit better. And lastly, nobody is really so normal anyway. We all have our own quirks and things we consider weird about ourselves so we should never feel ashamed. Whether it’s because you have wide feet, or prefer to eat your onion rings with strawberry jam, or are crazy about dots – – we are all weird in one way or another. And those are the very things that make us distinctly who we are. Yayoi has definitely discovered it about herself, embraced it and made a way to flourish in it.
MEET THE ARTIST
To start off, here are several documentaries and short features you and your children can watch to familiarize yourselves with Yayoi Kusama and the work she has done. The first video might be a little to complicated for small children to understand so I suggest that for the parents and for older children to watch. The second video is the simplest one, clearly produced for children, while the rest feature her previous shows and exhibitions which are really amazing.
PROJECT 1: Dotty Cards
Materials: Glue stick, old pencil, ink pads or paint, paper
- This is a simple stamping activity using the eraser end of a pencil and/or a glue stick.
- By stamping and using various colors, you can create a picture, make a pattern or simply go crazy filling a sheet of paper with dots
- We turned our dotty artwork into greeting cards which we gave out as Valentines Cards last month. Of course, you can make you por own for a different occasion or just as artwork to keep and display.
PROJECT 2: Painting Pattern
Materials: Paper, pencil, poster paint, brushes
For this art project, the goal was to paint a picture of something familiar in a way that was unusal. Our inspiration were these lively paintings by Kusama:
We know what they are a bowl of fruits and a pitcher of lemonade but because of the unusual colors and playful patterns, they are made to look extraordinary.
It was important for me to break it down for them into simple steps so that it becomes more manageable. And, we discovered, it became an exercise on patience as it took some time and effort to fill in the picture with pattern and detail. Here is how:
Step 1: Choose an image to paint. It should be something familiar to them and can be as regular as a fruit or a kitchen object. Draw it on a piece of paper without putting in any small detail.
Step 2: Color blocking. Assign a color for each area of the picture and paint it in. The challenge here is to think outside the box and color things very differently from real life. Make oranges blue, or the skies green! Be as wild and vibrant as you can.
Step 3. Outlining. Use a tiny brush and paint dark colored outlines around the elements in your picture. This will help make the colors pop out more. I noticed Kusama did this a lot with her pieces too.
Step 4: Repetitive detail. Once it’s dry, use a small brush and paint or colored markers to fill your picture with detail. Be playful! Use a different shape pattern for every color block in your picture. The more filled up it is, the better!
These are the paintings the girls and I made. Jo still stuck to natural colors for her fruits but I really commend for the consistency of her patterns.
The split color of they sky in Emma’s picture is what I love most about it! It’s like day and night in one frame.
Summer has always been a little obsessed about drawing bedrooms since she was so little. I’m not surprised she chose to paint another one this time. She mixed her own muted colors for this instead of using the paint straight from the bottle.
I share this post during a very bleak time in history. The world is up in arms fighting the Novel Corona Virus. Countries are on lockdown. People have shut themselves indoors to observe proper social distancing with the hopes of flattening the curve and onslaught of this disease. For me and my family, making art has been a way to cope not just with the boredom but also with the confusion, fear and despair. I, in particular, deal with many different feelings on a daily basis. Perhaps, we can learn a thing or two from Kusama to help ourselves get a grip on our emotions and our current situation. If painting hundreds of circles or drawing weird patterns will help us release our anxieties as it did for her, then so be it. Perhaps, it really is worth a try.
One more Yayoi Kusama inspired activity is coming up soon!