No. Red A, 1960
Before becoming a germinal figure in performance and installation art, Yayoi Kusama was one of the most original painters of the late 1950s and early ’60s. Her repetitive designs derive from the hallucinations she began suffering as a teenager, seeing dots and patterns covering everything around her. Her watercolors of the early ’50s often include fields of colored dots, either in collective isolation or combined with curving forms that evoke watery organisms observed under a microscope. The heart-shaped form at the center of No. Red A may represent one such sighting—or an organic valentine, anticipating the erotic impulse that would later emerge in Kusama’s performances. Her repeated coupling of monochromy and repetition simultaneously induces both perceptual numbness and spiritual transcendence.