Joseph Beuys Meets Yoshitomo Nara

Essay by Luke Foster

“ I wanted to go completely outside and to make a symbolic start for my enterprise of regenerating the life of humankind within the body of society and to prepare a positive future in this context.” Joseph Beuys

The late German artist Joseph Beuys was my favourite artist at art school and my work was derivative of his which means I borrowed from him or copied him.

My favourite artist as a adult is the Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara who I met while working at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney twenty years ago in the contemporary Japanese art exhibition Neon Tokyo which was the favourite install that I worked on there. The Japanese translator Naoko Waki organised a drawing swap between me and Nara and I just sold that drawing at auction at Sothebys in London two weeks ago for a substantial amount. I am so grateful to Nara for being so generous. He has influenced me a lot as I also now give away hundreds of drawing a month. But I realised I was giving to much and should only give twenty percent of my art.

Nara works in the medium of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and installation art. His artworks are all revolving around child figures. I have borrowed the way that Nara draws his characters with eyes closed.

Beuys was in the Nazi airforce in the second world war but after a long convalescence he came good and healed Germany after the war and made the country come to grips with the horror that it unleashed in the world particularly the holocaust where millions of jews were killed.

I don’t blame the current generation of Germans as I have visited Berlin and the German people I met were very kind.

Beuys most famous work was called How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare where he nursed a dead hare in front of his framed drawings, with gold leaf and honey covering his bald head. He was wearing his usual uniform of a white long sleeve shirt, a fishing vest and blue jeans and army boots.

The meaning behind the performance was complex. The hare as an animal lived in this world above the ground and also in tunnels under the earth so was a symbol of living in this world and the underworld. Hares also work for and against people in unusual ways.

Beuys was a normal man but he manufactured a huge myth around himself with truth and obvious fabrications.

He claimed to crash in the Crimeria in Eastern Europe and was wrapped in fat and felt by the indigenous Tartars. This obvious fabrication became the pillar stone of the symbol of healing qualities of fat and felt.

The most interesting felt artwork were the felt suits and they featured in his retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York. I am green with envy as I would love to have a retrospective at the Guggenheim.

I really love both of them but the only thing I don’t like is that they drank and smoked but apart from that they are perfect.

Nara has a wonderful documentary about him called Travelling With Yoshitomo Nara and I have watched it at least forty times as I watch him like a hawke to see how he made a success of himself. You can find it on You Tube.