The Lines of Humanity

By on May 16, 2018

Artist’s work focuses on ‘something that matters’

‘Harbinger of late winter day’s dusk’ by Jave Yoshimoto.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The quirky composition and bright colors draw viewers to Jave Yoshimoto’s art. They might see Godzilla, or something that just doesn’t look quite right.

“Then, when they look at the rest of the painting, they realize ‘Hey, there is something else going on,’” Yoshimoto said.

He uses simple, graphic compositions, where the elements fit together like a puzzle. His work is narrative and story-driven, and he always tries to incorporate humor, even when dealing with serious subjects like his recent series on refugees.

Yoshimoto is Teton ArtLab’s artist-in-residence during the month of May. He is an alum of the program and back for the second time. Last time he was in Jackson, he created work featuring a jackalope and Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring.

While in Wyoming he hopes to again find inspiration for his work. He recently visited Heart Mountain near Cody, a concentration camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II. He said he would like to make work that has elements based on the camp.

Yoshimoto was born in Japan and moved to the United States when he was 9 years old. He always drew as a child, but got serious about art while in college at the University of California Santa Barbara. One of his professors challenged him to focus on “something that matters,” so Yoshimoto began volunteering at a homeless shelter. That was when his art began to shift to look at the human condition and serious subject matter.

When his mother died in 2006, he pivoted away from solemnity.

“I started making paintings of bacon because I thought they were hilarious,” he said.

It was a way for him to deal with the overwhelming sense of loss and depression. For some reason, he found a bacon breakfast plate beautiful and funny and he obsessively painted it for months, creating 26 different works.

“It was this excessive search for joy and happiness,” he said.

That was when he realized the power of humor. He wanted to use that in his future work. Oftentimes art, especially contemporary art, isn’t accessible to viewers, he said. It relies too much on forcing people to think about what they are seeing and puzzle together what it means. Sometimes people just don’t want to do that, he said. Yoshimoto’s work uses bright colors and humor to draw people into the painting and then invest them in the subject matter.

Yoshimoto went on to earn a master’s degree in art therapy and has worked with different groups including immigrants and refugees, where he has witnessed art’s healing power.

He incorporates that into his work. He created a 30-foot-long painting inspired by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan. It became a type of memorial.

“I realized I can make something powerful and interesting,” he said.

Most recently Yoshimoto traveled to places like Greece and Nepal, seeking out stories of human struggles. He’s working on a series to honor those stories.

About a year ago Yoshimoto developed tennis elbow so severe he couldn’t pick up anything, including a paint brush. He turned to creating digital work and laser-cut sculptures in the interim, but found he loved it so much he plans to continue his three-dimensional work even now that he can again paint.

Before his injury, he painted and then redrew the image digitally to make a laser-cut stencil he used in a small format. Now, his laser-cut work has become three-dimensional and art in its own right. He likes the physical space a sculpture demands.

He incorporates the physicality of the sculpture in the work. Most of his sculptures are rectangular; some are shaped to look like Gameboys or cellphones to give the work his trademark sense of playfulness.

With his refugee series, he’s been working on creating coins that represent the money refugees must pay for seats on overcrowded small boats that promise to ferry them to safety and for additional amenities, like life jackets. 

Yoshimoto will show some of this work and discuss his process and the stories he wants to tell at an artist talk and studio tour from 6 to 8 p.m., May 24 at Teton ArtLab. He’ll also create a mini pop-up gallery with work from recent shows.

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