Yayoi Kusama, Sprouting (The Transmigration of the Soul), 1987

NARRATOR: Kusama’s 1987 painting Sprouting (The Transmigration of the Soul) is grand in scale, like her Infinity Nets. And like those paintings, this one is largely covered in dots. But these dots have tails–like sperm, or germinating seeds–and suggest life and growth. This effect is heightened by optical illusions at work in the painting: the white multiplying forms are so closely interrelated that they seem to move against the green background.

What’s incredible is that this sense of growth and mobility should be matched by such a tremendous feeling of control. Look closely. At times Kusama triples and quadruples the contours linking one dot to the next. In other places she wraps the lines tightly around the circular forms. Yet they never touch or cross: the “sprouting” action seems to be random, yet almost perfect. This feeling of eerie clarity is heightened by Kusama’s use of acrylic paint, which results in a smooth, flat finish. Acrylic has been her preferred painting medium since the 1980s. It gives the paintings a mass-produced appearance, allowing Kusama to play off of the love of pop culture and spectacle that characterize contemporary Japanese commercial art.