Kusama: A Graphic Biography

Laurence King. Oct. 2020. 128p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781786277169.
Gr 10 Up–Artist/author Macellari’s short graphic novel highlights Japanese artist and style icon Yayoi Kusama, known to many because of her highly Instagrammable infinity installations. Despite flourishing in the New York City hippie/avant-garde scene as a polka dot–obsessed painter and conceptual artist, Kusama is not as well known as other contemporaries due to an extended period of obscurity. This visual account, largely sourced from Kusama’s autobiography and website, primarily focuses on her burgeoning artistic career during the 1960s and early 1970s. Macellari also lightly touches on the artist’s childhood and her return to Japan (the result of mental health issues) in the 1970s and later reemergence onto the art scene in the early 1990s. Readers will find this a strong introduction to an artist who may be more recognizable for her work than her name, though given the topic it will appeal most to teens with an artistic bent. Indeed, at times, the narrative feels like a greatest-hits compilation of Kusama’s most notable work, such as her early infinity net paintings and mirrored infinity rooms, as well as her interactions with other famous artists of the day, including Andy Warhol and Joseph Cornell. Within the pale yet colorful, finely drawn illustrations, Macellari blends her own artistic style with that of her subject by incorporating distinct visual motifs like Kusama’s ubiquitous polka dots and phallic objects. Almost-exact renderings of actual photographs, flyers, and newspapers add another layer to the art. Nudity is present within historical context.
VERDICT A quick read for those interested in contemporary art and unfamiliar with Yayoi Kusama; a strong addition for creative arts high schools.

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