Yoshitomo Nara interview: 'I think: wow, this person worked really hard to get this far’

The Japanese artist tells us about looking back on a 30-year survey of his drawings and the effect of the 2011 tsunami on his recent work

  • Yoshitomo Nara

    Exhibition view

    Photo: Andy Keate

    Yoshitomo Nara
  • Yoshitomo Nara

    'Midnight Vampire', 2014

    © Yoshitomo Nara, Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Photo: Keizo Kioku

    Yoshitomo Nara
  • Yoshitomo Nara

    Installation view at Dairy Art Centre, 2014

    Photo: Andy Keate

    Yoshitomo Nara
  • Yoshitomo Nara

    Installation view at Dairy Art Centre, 2014

    Photo: Andy Keate

    Yoshitomo Nara
  • Yoshitomo Nara

    Installation view at Dairy Art Centre, 2014

    Photo: Andy Keate

    Yoshitomo Nara
  • Yoshitomo Nara

    Installation view at Dairy Art Centre, 2014

    Photo: Andy Keate

    Yoshitomo Nara
  • Yoshitomo Nara

    Installation view at Dairy Art Centre, 2014

    Photo: Andy Keate

    Yoshitomo Nara
  • Yoshitomo Nara

    'Can't Wait 'til the Night Comes', 2012

    © Yoshitomo Nara, Courtesy of the artist, Photo: Keizo Kioku

    Yoshitomo Nara

Yoshitomo Nara

Exhibition view

Photo: Andy Keate

Wide-eyed faces pulling cheeky expressions stare back at you in Yoshitomo Nara's latest exhibition. But don't be fooled by the Japanese artist's manga-inspired, cartoonish style. He doesn't just draw, paint and sculpt cute animals and kids, he creates complex, angst-ridden characters for our contemplation.

What's it like looking at 30-years-worth of work in one room?
'It makes me think: maybe this is enough, maybe I don't have to draw anymore. I also think: wow this person worked really hard to get this far.'

'Fiendish' seems to be a word most associated with your characters, but the new work feels more contemplative.
'Maybe I'm a little older and wiser. I'm doing fewer physical activities, going to fewer gigs now - although I still stage dive when I do. I've become more sensitive. I'm also aware that I've changed the way I think about everyday life since my father passed away and the tsunami in Japan. Maybe it's reflected in my paintings, there is less silliness and goofiness and they've become more serious and thoughtful.'

‘These days, I intentionally stop one step before the completion point'’

© Ester Keate

There's lots of different media on display. Which do you prefer working with?
'Honestly, I haven't ever thought about choosing one material over another. It's like kids in the playground wondering what they will do today: maybe they'll play soccer, maybe they'll wrestle. I'm conscious of the various materials around me but it's more like a natural response, what feels right at the moment.'

Can you explain the unfinished look of your new sculptures?
'These days, I intentionally stop one step before the completion point, whereas in the past the work would normally be made with a perfect finish. It feels instinctive and intuitive to work directly with the material like this.'

Do you think we have a different interpretation of your work than people do in Japan?
'It depends on the generation of the viewer. I had a show in Germany a few years ago and the audience was a little older and they would look at my dogs and turn to me and ask: Do you know this dog called "Snoopy?"