Unless she is too tired or ill, Kusama is driven each weekday around noon the short distance from the hospital to her studio. Upstairs are the offices, but the workspace is in the basement. On the afternoon I visited, she was clearly itching to get downstairs. When the time came, I followed. She was conveyed in a wheelchair. “I have pain in my knee, from painting all day long,” she explained. In the chilly, gloomy room below, lit by overhead fluorescents and any natural light that could penetrate the glazed-brick wall, a small stack of unfinished canvases was propped in a corner. Another group of completed ones leaned against the opposite wall. In the center of the room was a low folding table and on it, a canvas that an assistant had prepared with a ground of metallic silver. The picture lay flat, awaiting the artist’s touch. Seated in a battered desk chair that rolled on casters, Kusama could be spun around the table to reach any part of the painting. She was bundled up in a black and white overshirt on top of a floral-print dress, with a red blanket over that. She never hesitated as she daubed a scalloped border in red, advising the assistant: “Once I reach this point, can you bring me blue pigment?” She resumed in the new color without pausing.
“I never have a plan of what I am going to draw,” she said. She added two big red eyes in the center of the canvas. Although it looked like an exercise in surrealist automatism, her next words suggested otherwise.
“I will finish this painting tomorrow,” she said. “I think I have to quit now. The blue is beautiful. I will paint red and then black in the center.” She pointed to an unfinished painting in which green wavy lines undulated on a gold background. “I think I will work on that one tomorrow.” She seemed almost happy.