N.Y. (Self-portrait)
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This is, maybe obviously, not what Yoshitomo Nara looks like, putting this so-called self-portrait in league with those of Glenn Ligon

But psychologists say that we see ourselves in the people we’re around, and Nara grew up with only apple trees and pigs for friends, which does actually look a little bit like this portrait.

Nara’s aversion to fixed boundaries and ideas means that he probably imagines himself looking like an amoeba, floating around and changing shape based on his mood or location or whatever. He never saw himself as an Asian artist until he had an opening in LA and “realized that [Asian Americans] see me as the same as made me feel part of the whole Asian thing.” And this self-portrait is kind of...anybody? It could be of somebody from Japan as easily as Brazil or Finland, of a child as easily as an old person. Which would be fitting, Nara got mistaken for an old man as a young one, and now he gets asked if he’s a child stuck in an adult’s body.

Wherever the “Nara” in the painting is from and however old they are, he definitely infected them with his persistent sadness and loneliness—which is his primary source of inspiration. But then, all of his characters look like that.  He tries to paint differently but no matter what he does “they always come out this way.”

Artists paint themselves in every face, so to some extent every painting is a self-portrait. In this case, titling it (Self-Portrait) is just a reminder that I’m always this sad, this ambiguous, and this much like a cross between an apple tree and a pig. Don’t you forget it. And honestly, if that’s not a sentiment to live by...




  1. Besher, Kara. “Yoshitomo Nara.” Assembly Language Toronto Tokyo. 1999. Accessed April 30, 2018.
  2. Lin, Aimee. “Yoshitomo Nara,” Art Review Asia: Summer 2015. Accessed April 30, 2018.
  3. McNeill, David. “Yoshitomo Nara: neo-pop artist who defies categorisation.” South China Morning Post. March 4, 2015. Accessed April 30, 2018.
  4. Shaw, Catherine. “A conversation with Yoshitomo Nara.” Ocula. May 9, 2016. Accessed April 30, 2018.