Art Basel 2015
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Yoshitomo Nara. Photo: Nora Tam

Six degrees of separation from Yoshitomo Nara

Vanessa Assarasakorn

Yoshitomo Nara’s work will be on display in Hong Kong until April 25, in the “stars” exhibition, at Pace Gallery, in Central. When painting his manga- and anime-influenced creations in his Tokyo studio, the Hirosaki-born neo pop artist likes to listen to punk rock music, and a mixtape he compiled for W magazine featured Green Day, Nirvana and The Ramones. Nara’s first major exhibition in New York, however, was named “Nobody’s Fool” – the title track of a decidedly un-punkish 1973 soul album by American singer and songwriter Dan Penn …

Alabama-born Penn says he “stayed up most of the 60s” high on music and a little truckers’ amphetamine, co-writing hits for the likes of Janis Joplin and Otis Redding. Penn’s track Do Right Woman, Do Right Man was a starting point in the career of a woman now regarded as the Queen of Soul. Of her audition for the track, Penn says, “She sat down at the piano, calmly took a deep breath and then just hit the unknown chord. You knew history was going to be made that day.” That woman was Aretha Franklin …

The daughter of a preacher, Franklin grew up singing at her father’s Baptist church in Michigan, in the United States. Despite being a young mother – she had had two sons by the age of 15 – Franklin managed to forge a career that has seen her win 18 Grammys and become the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Last year, she was awarded an honorary doctor of the arts degree by Harvard University …

Founded in 1636 by the general court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the now Ivy League university was initially called New College or the College at New Towne. The institution was two years later renamed after John Harvard, an English preacher who had lived in Charlestown, which is today the oldest neighbourhood in Boston. Harvard had been the school’s first benefactor and he left his library and half his estate to the school in his will. Today, the university boasts many famous alumni, including John F. Kennedy, Bill Gates and, recipient of an honorary degree, Stephen Hawking …

The renowned cosmologist is the subject of a recent Hollywood biopic, The Theory of Everything, based on his ex-wife’s revised memoir, which charts their marriage during his decades-long battle with motor neurone disease. Initially told by doctors he wouldn’t live to see his 30s, Hawking celebrated his 70th birthday in 2012, at London’s Science Museum, where he sat for a rare portrait by British artist David Hockney …

Born in Bradford, England, David is the son of Kenneth Hockney, a conscientious objector during the first world war who was nicknamed “Yellow Hockney”. Hockney Snr bombarded newspapers and statesmen around the world with letters detailing his political concerns. His famous son admits to also indulging in this pastime, when not creating great art, some of which is on display at the Annely Juda Fine Art gallery’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, which features many renowned artists, including Yoshitomo Nara.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Six degrees