Nara Yoshitomo, untitled, 2005, coloured crayon on colour etching, 30.8 x 41.2 cm.

Yoshitomo Nara, Pop Art from the 1990s, 'Super Flat,' Art and Commerce

Nara Yoshitomo

Yoshitomo Nara, Untitled (Youth), Colored pencil on envelope, 2003, 14.69 x 9.45".


Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art
Gateshead Quays
South Shore Road
+ 44 (0)191 478 1810
Yoshitomo Nara + graf
June 14-October 26, 2008

A magical exhibition by internationally acclaimed Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, in collaboration with design unit graf. The exhibition features a village brought to life with Nara’s iconic characters, turning ordinary life into art.

Nara (b. Hirosaki, 1959), is one of Japan's best-known artists. As part of the Japanese pop art of the 1990s, he gained worldwide regard with seductive figurative paintings, drawings and sculptures, all executed in a deliberately elementary style. The emphasis in this presentation is on recent work, most produced for the exhibition in an architectural setting developed by Nara in collaboration with design collective graf.

"Super flat" is the term sometimes used to describe the deceptively simple visual strategy adopted by Nara. At first sight, the human figures and animals that appear in his work look merely cute, but ultimately their main fascination lies in the tension and aggression they conceal. Nara’s apparently innocent yet covertly menacing depictions of children seem to express an undercurrent in Japanese society, with its rigid social structures. Recent acts of shocking violence committed by children in Japan add to the topical relevance of his work.

It is probably this combination of innocence and conflict that makes Nara’s work so irresistible to young Japanese and that, together with his general attitude to life, has led to his current cult status in Japan. As well as being an artist, Nara is also a pop musician and a designer of T-shirts, CD covers, fanzines, buttons, dolls and other lifestyle products. ‘I live in and with my art’, he says. In his work, he draws on a medley of sources, including pop culture, comic strips, manga and other Japanese and Western artistic traditions. Between 1988 and 1993, Nara lived in Germany, where he studied as a Meisterschuler at the academy of art in Düsseldorf.

Over the last few years, Nara has frequently collaborated on exhibitions with Japanese design collective graf. Their jointly developed concepts for compelling architectural settings enable Nara to impose his personality on the shows. The fairytale urban ‘experience spaces’ they design are memorable in their own right. The artist constructs miniature studios, gives a peek at his weird and wonderful collections, offers sudden glimpses of murals and displays his sculptures via ‘peepholes’.

Nara and graf will fill the galleries with structures composed of recycled building materials. The wooden sheds and lighthouse that they intend to erect will be constructed almost entirely on-site.

Yoshitomo Nara, Light My Fire, Wood, acrylic, cotton, 2001, 188 x 73 cm.

Yoshitomo Nara, There is No Place Like Home, Acrylic on canvas, 1995, 16.25 x 19.75.