Yayoi Kusama, known for her trademark polka dot-centric art and the wild, childlike joy contained in her immersive works, is widely considered one of the most popular living artists in the world. Her show Infinity Mirrors, currently installed at the Art Gallery of Ontario through May 27, has inspired Beyonce-like ticket frenzy, and been met with glowing reviews.
Artist Ellen Weinstein, along with the Museum of Modern Art curator Sarah Suzuki, has captured Kusama's joy and creativity in a new book, published by the MoMA, Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity. Suzuki wrote the text, which tells the story of Kusama's life and art, while Weinstein's gorgeous illustrations draw readers into Kusama's utterly unique world and work. In keeping with the delight, playfulness, and accessibility of Kusama's work, the book is not a tired coffee table tome, but a joyful rendering of some of Kusama's most beloved works, targeted in particular to young readers.
Below you can see some of Weinstein's artwork from the book, including her images of Kusama's iconic Obliteration Room and the current star of Infinity Mirrors, the titular Infinity Room.
Today we're speaking with Ellen about creating Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity and capturing works by one of the world's most beloved artists on the page. She tells us about how she first came to love Kusama's pieces, why a book targeted to young readers was the right choice, and what she hopes Canadian art fans will take away from Infinity Mirrors (for those lucky enough to score tickets!).
When did you first encounter Kusama's work? What do you love most about her pieces that motivated you to work on this book?
I was aware of the work of Yayoi Kusama but first encountered it in person at her show at the David Zwirner Gallery in 2013. I was taken with the immersive nature of her work and her vibrant colour palette. In my illustration work, I have worked with a number of science publications and illustrated pieces that addressed inquiry and celestial bodies and there seemed to be a number of parallels between that work and the work of Kusama.
Why did you want to make this a book targeted to young readers particularly?
The Museum of Modern Art has been publishing books to introduce young readers to the work of artists and Yayoi Kusama was a perfect fit. Children love her work as do adults.
Kusama’s bright colors, patterns and the playful nature of much of the imagery seemed well suited for a young audience.
Tell us a little bit about working with curator and writer Sarah Suzuki on the book. How did you coordinate to make the text and images work together so well?
Sarah Suzuki extensively researched Kusama’s life and work and was able to distill it into a story that children could follow and relate to. Sara had a number of specific works that she felt needed to be included and I had some ideas about images and scenes I thought would work as well. We collaborated very well together and were in sync on how the book should flow.
Did you find the experience with From Here to Infinity different from your previous book project?
I was working simultaneously for part of the time on a book I wrote and illustrated, Recipes for Good Luck recently published by Chronicle Books. That book is for all ages and shares the unique superstitions, rituals, and practices of known figures. The subject matter and presentation are very different but in both books, I sought to capture the essence of a person’s work without imitating it.
Infinity Mirrors is in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario right now. What do you hope Canadian art fans will discover about Kusama through the installations?
I hope Canadian art fans discover the range of Yayoi Kusama’s work that extends into painting, sculpture, collage, and performance art in addition to the mirrored infinity rooms. I also encourage everyone, including myself, to experience the work and absorb it without seeing it through a phone lens.
What are you working on next?
I am currently working on a wide range of projects that include posters, editorial work, preparing for exhibitions and new books.
Ellen Weinstein was born and raised in New York City. She is a graduate of Pratt Institute and New York’s High School of Art and Design. Awards include American Illustration, Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts Illustration Annual, Print’s Regional Design Annual, Society of Publication Designers, Society of News Designers, and the Art Directors Club. She has judged numerous illustration competitions including Communication Arts Illustration Annual 2016, 2016 National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, AOI/World Illustration Awards, Society of Illustrators Annual exhibition, Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship and Society of Illustrators Zankel Scholarship. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, GQ Magazine, The New York Times, Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. Ellen lives with her husband, illustrator, David Flaherty, and their mini-long haired Dachsund, Fritzie.