–> Quality Time With Señor Yamamoto
~ INTRO ~
Who knew it would take more then an hour per interview not including travel time. It’s possibly ambitious overestimation scheduling four interviews in distant locations of Los Angeles, or just plain insanity. Regardless, after spending some quality time with my cousin and her son at the Long Beach Aquarium, followed by a leap to Venice Beach to meet with Frank Rozasy, I found the day half over and the schedule totally off. Maybe counting the miles between locations on my map would have helped. A workers demonstration severely backing up traffic around the Civic Center area right outside my destination in the Little Tokyo ‘hood really threw a wrench into my plans. Running hella late, I checked my cell and noticed numerous missed calls. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins driving me to complete the days mission. Yoskay had been patiently waiting and doubting if I was going to make it, especially when he realized I’d been given the wrong address. This initial sputter corrected, we finally connected at the spot Yoskay Yamamoto prefers to relax, sketch and take in the LA scenery.
~ BACKGROUND ~
Moments Of Truth ~ What’s your main form of creative expression?
Yoskay Yamamoto ~ As in medium? Like mainly, well. . . I don’t know. I like playing around with a lot of stuff. Mainly it’s paintings but I do sculptures on the side, like installations. And I do freelance graphic design.
MOT ~ How do you float between them? Do you have to change the way you work or anything?
YY ~ There’s definitely a similar aspect that I can apply to each. Like while doing some computer graphics I’ll come up with an idea I can apply to painting. Same thing with painting to another medium. Lately I’ve been taking pictures of a background or abstract images and bring that into Photoshop or Illustrator and mess around with it. So it works vice versa, even sculptures. . . well it’s good to have different outlets because I can get bored easily. I might paint for three months straight and come to a point where I have to sculpt something. It’s nice to have that option.
My main medium or focus is probably painting though. I think that’s my strongest skill.
MOT ~ What is it that always draws you back to painting?
YY ~ I think I just enjoy colors a lot. That’s a good question. I’m a big manga geek.
MOT ~ What, like ‘otaku?’
YY ~ Well, I wouldn’t quite say that I am but maybe on some level. So I think that shows a lot in my work, what I read and what I’m into.
MOT ~ Where did you grow up?
YY ~ A small town called Toba, 400 miles near Tokyo closer to the Osaka / Nagoya area. It’s right by the ocean.
MOT ~ Do you think that community had any influence on your ideas and how you express yourself creatively?
YY ~ Not necessarily art. Coming out here [to the U.S.] definitely because I just got bored. Watching two of my older brothers go through high school like everybody else, then college, then on to whatever. I don’t want to do that. So I came out here originally just to attend high school then I was going to return to Japan for college but I just had too much fun. You know, high school, the city college program, it was good.
MOT ~ Have you noticed any major cultural contrasts, say between urban and small town, U.S. and Japan…?
YY ~ Ahhh shit man, I haven’t gone home for like six years so it’s kind of hard to recapture what I felt.
MOT ~ What about from your childhood, does that come out in any way?
YY ~ I had a show in January called ‘Slanted Pigeon,’ the title referring to me being an Asian and Japanese and all that. That whole show’s subject matter was paying respect to my old cartoon heroes that I used to watch, like vintage forgotten heroes. Did you know that in Japan cartoons are so popular that every couple of months there’s a new show and the old one gets pushed back and you’ll only see it late night on the re-runs kind of thing. So I wanted to give a shout-out to all the characters I used to watch.
MOT ~ So there’s a high turnover rate for cartoon characters in Japan. Are they different characters or are the same ideas being rehashed constantly?
YY ~ There are certain continuous shows, take the ‘Power Rangers’ for example, that’s been going through since the late seventies. Or the ‘Masked Rider’ Kevin Rider has also been running since the seventies, but they change the main character each time coming up with some new names and new motorcycles.
MOT ~ Does anyone else in your family put a lot of energy into a creative medium? How did you get into it?
YY ~ Like I said I’m a big Manga geek so I used to copy a lot of the Manga I used to read. When I came over here, at the first high school I went to, I became friends with this guy JJ who wrote graffiti in Santa Barbara, which is like a pretty small town, and he took me around and showed me spots. We did graffiti here and there until finally it lead me to search. . . because I was never good at lettering, the only thing I could do was really characters. With that realization I kind of got over that whole graffiti scene and started looking into ‘Juxtapoz’ a lot and do more character based work.
Now I’m trying to step out of that whole base because when I look through that magazine everything looks kind of similar. I’m trying to switch up a little bit.
MOT ~ How are you doing that?
YY ~ By just being patient, trying not to rush it. I think style is one of those things you can’t just change with a finger snap. Sure, I wish I could, like go completely abstract or something else. I think I should just be patient and find out what my strengths and interests are. From there, narrow that down to a fine point. Right now I’m still messing around with characters, figures and landscapes, but I’m pretty sure eventually it’ll come down to some key things that I’m really interested in.
MOT ~ How do you go about identifying your strengths?
YY ~ It’s funny because the stuff I like always has a hard time selling. Those things that I’m like ‘whatever’ sells easier. So I don’t know if my self-critique is right about my style and where to go with my direction. When I finish certain work, some just speaks louder to me. When that happens I want to try that and maybe mix it with something else. It’s like I’m doing it because it grew out of a hobby, I wasn’t trying to be successful or anything. I was just trying to enjoy it. It’s weird because a lot of time people will look at a work and ask “what does this mean to you, what does this fish head mean to you?” I’m like not that deep, I just want to make images and share them with people. If people enjoy that, great, it’s mainly for myself actually.
MOT ~ The clip you have on your page of you working out the fish head image on that piece of wood, that’s pretty sick, how’d that come about?
YY ~ My buddy picked it up from a flea market and gave it to me. My friend Megan was attending Brooks Institute and had an assignment to shoot somebody doing something showing their progress. I said “Oh, I can paint and you can shoot me.” And she’s like “Oh, that’d be great.” It took some two hours and she had a gadget that took pictures every five or ten seconds so you end up with hundreds of hundreds images. She converted that to a Quicktime and gave me a copy. It’s fun, I love that little media. I think it’s funny because I look like I’m working really fast, like in some kind of sweat shop. I enjoy projects like that where I get to collaborate and it works out.
MOT ~ Have you had any mentors or guides for any of the mediums you’re working in?
YY ~ The person I can think of is the artist J. Shea nai, he does great work. He works a lot with found objects and assembles them making sculptures out of it. When he paints he puts all these wooden canvases together so as not to paint on the square stuff. That got me to experiment more and also a major reason why I started sculpting too. Before that I was strictly painting, then I had a show with him and was like “Shea, dude your sculptures are fucking rad man.” And he said “Oh, it’s just something called ‘model magic,’ you should try it out.” Then I started messing with it. He’s been a big influence on me.
Another guy is David Flores, pretty well known for stain glass style portraits and landscapes. Nowadays he does more design work then fine art work because I don’t think he’s had a show in a while. He used to be my mentor at my internship and is the one who helped me get into group shows. Without his help maybe I wouldn’t be as successful as I’ve been. Because it’s nasty, but it doesn’t seem so much about what you can prove out of yourself, as who you know, sometimes, to get into shows. I’m glad he helped.
Who else? Well, all these other artists, even though I’ve never met them in person, if I read an article about them it’s inspiring, giving me confidence to do my own things. Just recently I met this artist Kofie One and he’s really cool. I met him in the Seattle group show. Meeting with artists in different situations is pretty motivating too.
(We’re sitting outside Groundswork Café on the cusp of Los Angeles Japan Town area. I’m having lunch, two espresso’s, and hanging out just long enough for this interview at Yoskay’s think tank area. Unfortunately at the moment we’re semi distracted by a table nearby that is in a heated nonsensical conversation. Normally this would be just the spot for the ‘Psykoo Babbler’ to join in the urban madness but the day is rapidly revolving out of sight, I’m way behind already and there’s still two more MOT appointments in totally different parts of the city to meet. So although the digital recording is a little garbled now, the magic is in the air.)
MOT ~ How do you go about approaching different artists?
YY ~ This show in Seattle was hosted by Scion. Do you know how Scion does installation tours? I was invited this year. This particular touring show started in Seattle and is headed for Miami in December ‘07. The show displayed works by Kofie, Chris Yarmick and myself. The curator took us to dinner so we got to meet each other.
The gallery owner at Project art directs me sometimes, because when I have a hard time finishing a piece I’ll take it to my friends to get some feedback. Often I’ll do that with him because he seems to give me solid direction.
~ INSPIRATION ~
MOT ~ Do you follow an overall philosophy that you work by, something you find helps you stay creative?
YY ~ I just uhhhh…. Oh MAN, you lost me. I see a lot of artists get to one point and they start to do half ass work. Primarily I have to satisfy myself before anyone else.
MOT ~ Before or after, anywhere in the process, do you take an audience into consideration in some way?
YY ~ Not really, I like changing stuff a lot. Like, when you go to my website, it hasn’t really been updated for a couple years; maybe not since ’05. I may even have some stuff on there from ’04. What I’m doing now is completely different from where I started. I think my work is constantly changing and I like that. I’m not trying to paint my fish head character for the rest of my life, I’m not into that. I’m not into painting Space Monkey or Bigfoot for the rest of my life. I’m not dissing those guys, I’m happy they’re happy doing their thing, but I like change probably because, like I said before, I get bored a little too easy.
Some of the greatest artists like say Picasso had so many different styles, always coming up with new stuff. That’s a trait I really admire, that drive to always question your work, trying to change your style and subject matter. Artists who show progress and growth I really like, instead of just picking one style and stretching that over the next twenty years or whatever.
MOT ~ Is that something you can do on a conscious level or is it just built into your psyche? Or is it more like what you were saying about just being patient?
YY ~ I’m not really sure. One philosophy I do have is to not paint a character in the exact same way. Sure, I may paint a fish head, but he’ll be from a different angle or different perspective. Little tweaks help keep myself interested in my characters. From the extent that I get bored [of that character] even though I change the angle, I know I’m over it and it’s time to do something else.
For example, the fish head character I started doing it in ’04. Then I didn’t paint it for maybe a year or year and half because I’d just gotten sick of it, ya know. But people would ask me “aren’t you going to paint more fish head, more fish head?” Eventually, last year I started working with him again. Before that they were all from the torso and up, profiles essentially. Then I started doing this infant like, kinda weird proportion of the head being one and the body also one, a ratio of one to one. So it appears to be a baby with a fish head on it. That kind of progress makes me happy to see that I can take an old idea and create something new. That always puts a smile on my face.
Certain times I’ll get an idea but I can’t execute it because my technique isn’t there yet. So ideas that may be two or three years old, somehow I’m finally able to do them. That’s a signal to me that my skills have progressed. I don’t know, it seems that just because an idea is old doesn’t necessarily mean it’s outdated or a bad idea. It’s just an idea you had before but never got to use it to its fullest. Even Japanese stuff, I used to do a lot of Japanese based theme work then got over it, but now I’m coming back to it using more of the design aspect. For example I’ve been incorporating traditional textile design into my work. Like a full cycle, starting out doing the manga thing then got into graffiti then got into Ukoe-e and the Japanese tattoo style into more of an urban pop type of thing… just going around and around.
MOT ~ Sure man, life’s kind of like that. Do you ever feel drained of your energy to create? What brings you back to feeling creatively energized?
YY ~ Oh yea, sometimes I’ll get that thing people call ‘writers block.’ What’s that…? Certain times I just can’t do shit, so when that hits I’ll just try to at least sketch, even if I can’t sketch my own stuff I’ll try to sketch a picture out of a photo or something just trying to keep active. Here, I’ll show you my sketchbook.
See, a lot of stuff I just doodle. I may pick an image out of a photo and try to do that. This sketchbook I started in San Francisco two years ago. Sometimes I’ll sketch out other peoples work to just figure out what they’re trying to do, like Space Monkey. . .
MOT ~ Like Dalek there?
YY ~ OH MAN, he is technically crazy. Have you seen his painting in real life? It’s completely flat, you can’t see any brush strokes or anything.
MOT ~ Some people use that black sandpaper that’s used to sand metal with a little bit of water.
YY ~ Oh, water sand it, right, right. Well, lately I’ve been trying to experiment a little more. All these were pencil and pen sketches and I’ve started trying to paint into it a little bit. I’d never tried to do that in my sketchbook before, so it’s been kind of fun just playing around. Certain pages I might not like, so I’ll just paint it over and start again.
The sketchbook has always been like the backbone of my work. When I get metal blocks I’ll go back to my sketchbook. Even when flipping through old sketchbooks I’ll find an image that I may have never liked before – the same thing with music, you develop certain tastes along the way. I never really like The Beatles, but now I love them. The sketchbook is a good gauge of one’s progress too, it’s right in front of you.
~ TECHNICAL ~
MOT ~ So would you describe your process from beginning to end starting with your sketchbook?
YY ~ The way it sometimes works for me really depends. Each work comes out or starts out differently. I’ll sketch something and if I like it, it’ll work into a painting. Sometimes I’ll just start painting and in the process of enjoying working it out something cool may appear. This [sketchbook] is where I brainstorm and try to figure things out. I guess everything comes out of here and makes its way into my paintings and sculptures.
MOT ~ How can you tell when you’re working out an idea or painting that it’s reached that finish point?
YY ~ Well, I have a few unfinished paintings. Certain things sometimes are puzzles to me, and, as I work, it’s a search for the solution to fix the problem. I may do backgrounds and certain colors may not be right. It takes me a little while to figure out the colors.
So when it looks good to me, I know it’s done. Sometimes I’ll submit a piece thinking it’s finished and looks good. When it doesn’t sell and I get it back it may strike me “Oh, maybe this was lacking this, it’s missing this, that’s why people didn’t respond.” Certain times I’ll get a piece back and rework it and submit it again kind of thing.
MOT ~ When you’re working it out do you loose track of time, where does your mind go?
YY ~ Oh dude, when I’m in the mood, I’ll be sitting down at my desk for hours. Like certain times, it totally depends on my mood, I may get irritated, can’t focus and have to just take a break. When I’m enjoying mixing colors, just working on it time passes really quickly. That’s when I know I’m enjoying it too. It’s kind of a great feeling.
MOT ~ You’ve worked with a lot of different images and like to keep evolving. I’m curious how much creative freedom you believe you have from the perspective of it being intrinsic versus the society around you?
YY ~ Man, that’s interesting. New ideas are sometimes hard for me to come up with, something ground breaking or whatever. But like I said, I know it takes patience, I know every piece is not going to be my masterpiece. I know I do some crap work, some shitty work here and there, I just work through it. I mean, mistakes make perfection. Even Picasso, I’ve seen some shitty paintings he did. It’s not that big a deal for me, sure it’s frustrating but I try to tell myself to be patient, just work through it. It takes time.
MOT ~ What do you think it is that keeps driving you to make art instead of finding some other thing to do, or not doing anything at all?
YY ~ Dude, I can’t imagine doing anything else. That’s truly it! I get such a kick out of all of this. I think this is the way I can enjoy my life the most. Because having shows, sharing my work with people, getting feedback and people buying my work agreeing to the value that I put it out at… that’s such a good compliment to me. And it’s a weird kind of natural high that I get. It feels good. And I can’t imagine having that same kind of achievement or good feeling from just selling a car. I might sell a car and get excited knowing “hey, I’m making this much commission,” but it’s not really mentally or soulfully filling you up like you get to do with art or music.
MOT ~ If you had the chance to sit down and talk with any artists, or anyone you might find interesting, are there any questions you’d be interesting in asking them?
YY ~ Noooo, not really. I would just love to ask those dead artists or musicians how life was like during that time.
My main focus is pushing myself forward and not worrying so much about the outcome. So far I’ve had good luck. Everybody has up and down times. Without the down times I don’t really think you can appreciate the up times. Of course there’s inspiration in both emotions. When you’re happy you’ll likely create something that looks pretty. When you’re negative, sad, or whatever, you tend to create something darker. Both sides have important emotional inspiration embedded into them. It’s funny that a lot of what I consider my good work comes during down times. In up times I end up doing cutesy little things, and I’m alright with it, but when I do something that speaks a little louder, it has a greater impact. Too me, it seems that negative emotions tend to have that more powerful impact. I guess I just have an easier time transferring that emotion to an image. I mean, all the great songs are like sad miserable songs ya know.
Check out more on Yoskay via these links below
Yoskay’s homepage ~ www.yoskay.com
See more about the art and artists of the Scion traveling ‘It’s A Beautiful World’ installation project ~ www.scion.com/installation/
Yoskay’s profile on the Scion page ~ www.scion.com/installation/yamamoto.html
Become his friend at ~ www.myspace.com/yoskayyamamoto
A little blurb about the upcoming release of Yoskay’s fishhead vinyl sculpture ~ www.vinylpulse.com/2007/07/yoskay-yamamoto.html
Some of his work from a show at Think Space Gallery ~ www.sourharvest.com/thinkspace/east2west/index.php