Nara first came to the fore of the art world during Japan’s Pop art movement in the 1990s. The subject matter of his sculptures and paintings is deceptively simple: most works depict one seemingly innocuous subject (often pastel-hued children and animals drawn with confident, cartoonish lines) with little or no background. But these children, who appear at first to be cute and even vulnerable, sometimes brandish weapons like knives and saws. Their wide eyes often hold accusatory looks that could be sleepy-eyed irritation at being awoken from a nap—or that could be undiluted expressions of hate.
Nara, however, does not see his weapon-wielding subjects as aggressors. "Look at them, they [the weapons] are so small, like toys. Do you think they could fight with those?" he says. "I don’t think so. Rather, I kind of see the children among other, bigger, bad people all around them, who are holding bigger knives…" Lauded by art critics, Nara’s bizarrely intriguing works have gained him a cult following around the world. In June, 2005, Nara's artwork was featured in the album titled "Suspended Animation" by experimental band Fantômas. Other commercial products (including videos, books, magazines, catalogues and monographs) have been dedicated to Nara’s work. Recently, a two-volume catalogue raisonné of all his sculptures, paintings, and drawings was completed. In 2010 the Asia Society showed Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody's Fool the first major New York exhibition of his work. Other major retrospectives include: "I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me", which toured Japan between 2001 and 2002; and "Yoshitomo Nara: Nothing Ever Happens," which traveled the United States from 2003 to 2005.