Yoshitomo Nara bio: Discover the artist behind our Summer 2023 show

Yoshitomo Nara bio: Discover the artist behind our Summer 2023 show 

Stella McCartney and Yoshitomo Nara join creative forces again, with the legendary Japanese artist’s work featured in the designer’s Summer 2023 runway show collection, presented at the Centre Pompidou during Paris Fashion Week. Blending fashion and art to raise awareness for issues that matter, the collaboration will continue with a new unisex capsule – set to launch in December.

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Inspired by Nara’s activism, attitude and art, pieces feature animal children, social slogans and big-headed girls with piercing eyes. The Summer 2023 runway show saw his artworks blown-up with sharp detail on oversized trench coats, corsets, compact knit dresses and deconstructed jumpers. Scuba pieces inspired by Japanese surfers continued this display of shared values and aesthetics.

But who is the artist behind the activism? Keep reading to discover more about Yoshitomo Nara. 

How Yoshitomo Nara has changed the history 

Yoshitomo Nara (奈良 美智) is a legendary Japanese painter and sculptor. Born in 1959 in Hirosaki in the Aomori Prefecture on Honshu, he grew up in a rural community with two older brothers. His grandfather was a Shinto priest, with Nara later taking inspiration from the spiritual teachings in his creative works. 

Nara was first introduced to Western music via the Far East Network, an American military radio station based in Honshu. This sparked his creativity and artistic imagination from an early age, eventually leading him to study at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in Germany in the late 80s and early 90s under the steadfast mentorship of German painter A.R. Penck. 

Yoshitomo Nara bio

He is best-known for his iconic pastel-hued, big-eyed children and animals – deceptively simple art that is repeated throughout his body of work. These ‘big-headed girls’ embody kawaii with a dark edge; they often carry knives and small weapons, a nod to the free-spirited, punk attitude that now emanates throughout Nara’s archive.

The punk child captured in ‘Twins I’ takes the traditional Japanese theatre character ‘Otafuku’ – joyful and cheerful – and turns her into a mischievous and brooding soul. Art critiques have since said this work “helped overturn the perception of Japan as an inflexible society governed by ancient social conventions”. 

His sad, malevolent figures speak universal truths, expressing conflicting emotions and anxieties and using youthful human emotion as a powerful vehicle for bigger messages. In his first-ever fashion collaboration for the Yoshitomo Nara × Stella McCartney Spring Summer 2021 capsule, fashion in turn became a vessel and voice for meaningful issues. Loud-and-proud slogans on knitwear, jersey and outerwear channel the youthful rebelliousness that continues to lead Nara’s work – uniting a new generation of changemakers. 

Yoshitomo Nara’s iconic works have been showcased in more than 40 solo exhibitions since 1984. His distinctive style took a change in direction following the devastating Fukushima earthquake and tsunami in 2011.  

The disaster directly impacted the Aomori prefecture and Tohoku region where Nara grew up, and the scenes of the affected areas shown on TV made him feel powerless to paint and unable to create. Since then, he has instead immersed himself in making huge clay sculptures directly by hand, which became his rehabilitation in returning to art. 

A year later, he started to paint again – and the resulting works feature a kindness and gentleness he never had before. Nara’s works now are not only portraits of rebellious anger, but also showcase a deep inner love.

Today, Yoshitomo Nara still works from his art studio in Japan – with his style continuing to influence a rising generation of creatives, having already cemented the cultural identity and significance of his homeland in international markets. He has amassed a cult following for his rebellious and meaningful works, embracing social media to share his creations with his thriving community of fans. 

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