Artwork Spotlight: Yayoi Kusama's 'Yellow Pumpkin' (1994)

“As my spiritual home since childhood, and with their infinite spirituality they contribute to the peace of mankind across the world… they make me feel at peace, pumpkins bring about poetic peace in my mind.” -Yayoi Kusama

Yellow Pumpkin (1994) is an outdoor sculpture that perfectly combines Yayoi Kusama’s style into a visual feast for the eyes. Installed at the end of a pier in Naoshima, the bright and larger than life large (sitting at a squat 2m high) fibreglass work is set against the crashing tides of the seaside village.

The pumpkin in question is a kabocha, a kind of pumpkin used extensively in Japanese cooking. The prominence of the form in Kusama’s life dates back to her childhood where she first viewed the vegetable on a farm with her uncle where it began speaking to her “in a most animated way.” From a young age, Kusama suffered from hallucinations and obsessive compulsions in the forms of dots and flowers, but in pumpkins she found respite. With their almost bodily anthropomorphism, pumpkins provide a sense of comfort to the artist.

The bright yellow and black pumpkin at Naoshima is decorated with the polka dots that have developed into Kusama's signature style. She has noted that in the process of painting them, she experiences a loss of personality- the overly repetitive motion creates a momentary escape. As someone who deals with anxiety, I can relate to this as a form of meditative action. Allowing yourself peace from your racing thoughts by concentrating on something that simultaneously requires very little effort but almost all of your concentration. Kusama applied this method of obliterating polka dots to her tender, comforting pumpkins to create one of the most recognisable art objects today.

In adorning her pumpkins with dots, she imbues pumpkin with its own kinetic energy- the dots jostle each other like atoms bouncing off one another. The closer to the centre of the curves you get, the dots increase in size whilst diminishing in number. The further away you get from the bulges, the smaller and more frequent they get. This seems to create a vibration and gives the inanimate object a sense of life- perhaps akin to the very real presence they seem to take on for the artist.

🎃 Yayoi Kusama, 'Yellow Pumpkin (1994), 2 x 2.5, fibreglass @ Naoshima Island, Seto Inland Sea, Japan // Image courtesy of the artist