Yoskay Yamamoto Finds His True Creative Way As a Fine Artist

By Meg Oldman

Yoskay Yamamoto is the creator of a world of whimsy and tenderness. The hues of blues play artfully with faces, which appear on clay pots, on houses, and even emerging from ocean waves. As Yamamoto describes, his work involves two significant aspects: “My goal as an artist, at the moment, is if I can lighten up or brighten up somebody’s day. If I can put a smile on somebody’s face, I think did my job as an artist.”

Humble Beginnings

Yamamoto’s world is shaped by his culture and family. He grew up in the small, seaside town of Toba, Japan. He came to California to study abroad at the age of 15. Originally, he was going to stay through high school; that plan became community college, followed by study of art and graphic design.

A three-month internship in Southern California with a mentor, David Flores, who owned a gallery, drew him away from the commercial aspects of graphic design and into the creation of fine art instead. His mentor liked what he saw in Yamamoto’s new work; subsequently, Yamamoto participated in an art show at the gallery where he sold the first piece of his own work. Yamamoto decided this way of creative expression was the one he wanted to pursue, rather than the commercial work for which he was trained.

Reflections of His Heritage and Family

As parents are wont to do when their children are old enough to leave home, Yamamoto’s mother worried about him being able to make his way as a fine artist and still support himself. Originally, he told her he was studying to be a graphic designer; his change of direction into creating fine art works led to her to be hesitant about his choice of pursuit. Yamamoto sent her clippings of his successes and images of his works of art. “In the beginning, my mother kind of worried about me.”

Yamamoto carries his heritage with him from Japan as well. “I still like to consider myself, as in, like, in Japanese mentalities when it comes to craftsmanship, like working with hands. I think, in those terms, my heritage could appear in my art.” He realizes that only by stepping away from his own culture and family can he truly appreciate and embrace, “how precious and important it is to your roots or background, my friends, my mom, my mom’s cooking.” He found himself missing the simple things, such as family meals, once he was away from his home. He particularly remarked on missing the type of food cooked by someone who cares for him, such as his mom.

Yamamoto seeks to bring that appreciation into his work. He puts the skills he learned in Japan to good use, and his ability to work with detailed, fine woodworking, and intricate painting shows in all his creations.

Yamamoto’s Art

Much of Yoskay’s work consists of geometrically constructed boxes, delightfully arranged, with personal-like items inside, and painted backgrounds of shades of lighter blues, bubbles, clouds, and portraits, to name a few. Then there are the pots with faces on them, painted in bright yellows, whites, and more, with plants growing in them; he calls them, humorously, “Potheads.”

The most powerful influence in his work lies within the boundaries of an installation he built in the Vincent Price Gallery in Los Angeles. Inspired by the handwritten letters he received from his mother and grandma, he constructed a small house, 8’ x 8’, in which he included personal items, both from his home and his studio. The front of the house bears a simple face which adds to the personal feel of the installation; the overall effect has a wistful, dreamy quality; the décor calls one to the main purpose of the house: a desk with postcards and writing tools. Visitors are encouraged to sit down and write a postcard home or to friends; the idea is to reconnect with loved ones far away in a traditional way: through handwriting a postcard, which then is mailed outside the house in a mailbox with a raised, red flag on it; his idea is the red flag is truly American. There is even a vending machine with stamps in it, entitled, “hope it will reach you eventually.” The installation attracted many visitors who responded to the desire to communicate through handwritten words. Current technology is leading away from the method of traditional writing; this trend makes the concept behind Yoskay’s installation a particularly poignant one.

Blending Cultural Influences and Imagery

There is much symbolism at play in Yamamoto’s artwork; for instance, the moon is present in many of its phases. The relationship among the moon, sky, and water has deep meaning for the artist. The sense of longing and loss is palpable in much of the artist’s imagery, as well; for instance, the portraits of the women rising up through ocean waves carry that sense of being parted for loved ones and family. At the same time, there is the delightful, playful quality to Yamamoto’s works of art.

A Lasting Legacy

Yamamoto sees his lasting legacy will be expressed in creating sculptures, as big as he can make them, for placement in public venues. This way, he can draw people into his world for their ultimate pleasure and reflection. He wants to communicate with others: despite the difficulties and challenges we all face in life, vision, delight, and play are some of the tools with which we can bring meaning to ourselves. Yamamoto brings those qualities to his work and shares them with all whose lives he touches.

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Born and raised in Toba, Japan, Yoskay Yamamoto moved to the United States at the age of 15. A self-trained illustrator, Yamamoto’s artistic tastes expanded as he fell in love with the urban culture of the West Coast. Yamamoto discovered a way to fuse the two different cultural backgrounds together into his work. Yamamoto nostalgically blends pop iconic characters from his new Western home with traditional and mythical Japanese elements, balancing his Asian heritage with urban pop art. To see more, visit yoskay.com.