Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara launches Hong Kong show

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 March, 2015, 1:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 March, 2015, 6:12pm

New works by Yoshitomo Nara mark the Japanese artist's take on death and the impermanence of life after an earthquake and tsunami in 2011 hammered the region between his hometown and current residence.

The more than 20 new creations make up about half of 42 of his works to go on show in Hong Kong starting today.

As Nara readily admits, at 55 he is more than halfway through the average life expectancy of Japanese men, of 80.

Watch: Yoshitomo Nara: I'm still trying to figure out the meaning of life

And after the March 11, 2011, twin natural disasters, which triggered a meltdown at a Fukushima nuclear plant about 100km from where he lived, the contemporary artist realised it was about time he stepped out of his "self-centred" comfort zone. "I was shocked. I couldn't create any more pieces," Nara, who was born in Aomori in northern Japan, said yesterday. "I realised that in the past, I had created my works freely. I did whatever I felt like. It was too self-centred."

Nara's drawings, photos, sculptures and mixed-media installations can be viewed at the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre in Admiralty for free. Funded by HK$4.21 million from the Jockey Club Charities Trust, the show will run until July 26.

It is his first major solo exhibition in Asia outside Japan. The title, Life is Only One: Yoshitomo Nara, comes from a painting at the entrance that shows an innocent-looking girl holding a skull.

While Nara's works often come with contrasting dynamics, the latest creations mirror the more intimate feelings he has of death, because of both the disaster and the demise of his father.

"Until recently, I just wanted to have fun and enjoy things as they are. Now … I want to create works that would be meaningful even after I leave the world."

The girl was a signature of Nara's works, said Dominique Chan, head of exhibition at the centre. Once depicted with an angry, witty stare, she seemed quieter and more thoughtful after 2011, if not downright sad.

Meeting the media yesterday, however, her creator brimmed with energy. "Don't ask me why I draw little girls. I have no idea," he said - but then added there was indeed a little girl in him. "Two years before my birth, my mother conceived a daughter who was not born [eventually]. I feel she is inside me."

Flowers and beautiful objects appealed to Nara, he said. "I didn't like that side as a boy. As a result, I learned judo and rugby," he recalled, before adding laughingly: "But yes, I love girls."