Yoshimoto Nara @ Dairy Art Centre

If the name Yoshimoto Nara is unfamiliar to you, then I am almost certain that you would at least recognise his cartoon like images, which are coincidentally, currently on display at the Dairy Art Centre.

The show comprises sculpture, drawings, painting and even a water fountain in a retrospective style set-up. Nara is a Japanese artist whose career spans over three decades. The show is huge and is dominated by moody looking characters in a variety of guises. Nara’s pastel coloured subjects are reminiscent to me of ‘Little My’ from Tove Jansson’s Moomins, and I later learned that Nara spent time in Scandinavia, as well as, somewhat randomly Afghanistan. I have not been able to find out why exactly the artist travelled to these locations but it would be interested to know what caused him to spend time there.

The drawings and paintings are numerous and indeed very entertaining, however, it was the sculpture that left a real impression on me. Despite the endearing qualities of the images on paper and canvas, they could easily blend into the work of countless other Asian artists and illustrators concerned with cartoon imagery and manga. Nara takes his images one step further by turning the two-dimensional into three-dimensional artworks. These sculptures are cast in bronze and remain uncoloured. In this respect the childish characters seem to grow up and become more serious. Sculpture is a new medium for the artist, having only taken it up in 2011; however, I sincerely hope that Nara continues to use it within his work.

My favourite piece in the exhibition was a water fountain comprising of three white figures piled on top of each other inside a large teacup. The teacup is then filled with water, which comes in the form of tears from the eyes of the characters within in. The large cup is reminiscent of the tea cup rides seen at western fairgrounds, bringing another dimension to something that is normally associated with joy. In fact, much of Nara’s work inserts scowls and serious expressions where one would expect to see smiles, though somehow he doesn’t inflect misery on his viewers.

I would strongly urge those interested in cartoons or Asian art in general to visit Nara’s characters before they leave London. If anything, they will take away your pained expression if you are having a bad day.

Yoshimoto Nara: Greetings from a Place in my Heart is on display at Dairy Art Centre until 7 December

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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