During the first part of his career in the 1980s, Nara began revisiting early memories and dreams—many reflecting his loneliness—in a loose style of drawing and painting. In 1988 Nara decided to move to Germany in search of solitary time to develop his own distinct style. When he first arrived, he knew very little German and could only communicate in the most elementary way. As he has described in interviews, his sense of isolation was profound, even for someone who had spent much of his childhood alone.
With time, he came to realize that communication could be established through the use of simple essentials, both in spoken words and visual language. Nara began to rid his work of all excess elements in the background and focus more completely on his subjects, determining that “each painting needs only to speak of one thing” (ichimai no e de katarukoto wa hitotsude ii). From this reductive process emerged Nara’s signature aesthetic style and the now familiar iconography in Nara’s art: children and animals. A child’s feeling of sadness when left alone, an adolescent’s awkwardness growing up, and the resulting uneasiness connecting with the outside world crystallized in his work. When asked about his frequent depiction of dogs, Nara has remarked that their submissive obedience reminds him, sadly, of children. In many of his works, children and animals are interchangeable representations of loneliness and solitude as well as symbols of innocence and its fragility. Another motif that recurs frequently in his work is a house, clear reference to the place where he spent much time drawing alone. Houses are today important elements in the design of his installation works. Nara’s relatively secluded time in Germany ended in 2000 when he made a spur-of-the-moment decision to move back to his home country.
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