Courteney Cox Visits Opening of New Work by Yoshitomo Nara

Courtesy of Blum and Poe

Artist Yoshitomo Nara talked with THR about his opening at Culver City's Blum and Poe, which drew the "Cougar Town" star with musician boyfriend Johnny McDaid.

Stormy weather put a dent in the crowds coming out for the gallery openings in Culver City Saturday night, but the chance to see new work by Yoshitomo Nara brought out the faithful. Nara, known for his slightly sinister anime portraits, has become quite a celebrity in Japan and in the art world in general. This is the seventh exhibition of Nara’s work at Blum and Poe, the gallery that helped introduce him and countryman Takashi Murakami to a global audience. 

Courteney Cox was at the opening with musician boyfriend Johnny McDaid. "I love his work," said Cox who added that she was possibly interested in buying. "If there are any works still available." The Cougar Town star was asked if she was getting into collecting art. She said, "I am just starting to get into it. I'm learning."

The new exhibition at Blum and Poe has two parts. The larger galleries downstairs have new large sculptures and paintings. The artist’s new paintings are more vibrant and delicate in paint handling than earlier works. Similarly, Nara’s sculptural work changed from the glossy, polished forms of previous years to a more roughhewn, humanistic manner. The new bronze sculptures are small and large blocky heads in dullish metallic or black tones with subtle facial expressions pinched out of them with the artist’s fingers. A small work, "Putting out a small tongue" from 2013, is roughly the size of a child’s head, with diminutive features and a peaceful, almost saddened expression. The upstairs gallery is a retrospective of drawings from thirty years of work by the artist. 

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The artist spoke with THR about the influence of western music, Walt Disney, and recent natural disasters in his home country. 

This is a beautiful show, and the drawing retrospective is an amazing opportunity for people to see the development of your work.  Have you done anything like this before.

The drawing retrospective covers 30 years of work – starting in 1984 when I graduated from art school.  

I know that western music and record albums were an early inspiration for your artwork.  Did films have an impact on your creative work at any point?

As with music, there are times when the story can enter my work, or the color – the cinematography of the film – and sometimes the soundtrack can effect me. There are different way to be influenced by things – just like music – sometimes with a folk song the lyrics will really appeal to me. Or if I don’t understand the lyrics, the music itself will have an effect.

Do you have a favorite American rock band or musician?

Well, he’s not American, but I like Neil Young.  And Bob Dylan.  Big influence.

Can you tell me about your relationship with Los Angeles?  You had your first North American exhibition here.  There is so much text and imagery combined in the landscape here – would you say that over the years Los Angeles has had an impact on your work?

Good question.  It goes back to the fact that I grew up out in the countryside in Japan.  The main influence was not museums – there weren’t any near me – or institutions, but through album covers.  I would listen to the music and look at the album covers and my imagination would run from there.  So when I first came to LA and see the billboards and sign, it brought back memories from that and made me excited to be there.  I am ‘vinyl generation'

Has sculpture always been a part of your studio practice?  If not, when did that become important to you?

In school, I learned more that 2D processes, but when I was younger I had a part time job working for a company that made Disneyland attractions.  I learned the commercial side of sculpting there.

Walt Disney has had a major impact on the arts here in Los Angeles – more than most people may know.

And I have the same birthday as Walt Disney – December 5.  I grew up watching Japanese animation and Disney animation.  It is the same as comparing Toyota to Mercedes, the two have a different type of feel to them.  I’m not sure about the works now, but the early 1960s work had an impact on me.

In the new sculpture, I see Rodin and Degas in the subtlety and the ‘hand made’ quality of the work.  Are there particular artists who have had an impact on this work?

In the beginning, the influence of making the Disney works led me to work in fiberglass.  The works were shiny and more commercial looking – like the "Fountain of Life" work outside.  But because of the earthquake in 2011 I moved on to the bronzes.  Rather than making something commercial, I wanted to make something where I could leave a mark – something that almost retains the form of the creator.  There are actual hand marks on the sculptures.  In terms of Rodin, I feel that modern artists back then worked in a very small world, so for them the act of making wasn’t for selling but art for art’s sake.  I wanted to relate to that.

Clearly the events that took place – the earthquake and the tsunami had a major impact on your life and work. 

I think it influenced almost every Japanese person.