written by Judith Taylor
Working with multiple engraved plexiglass plates, the artist layered elements to project a sense of animation and imagination.
Koichi Yamamoto merges the traditional and contemporary, creating innovative approaches to the language of printmaking. In Aspect Ratio, his current installation at Gallery Shoal Creek, the master printmaker, internationally known for his complex engravings, turns his focus to functional forms and intaglio printed kites.
Discovery is at the heart of Yamamoto’s work. It is his exploration and mastery of the complex process of engraving that raises his work to an extraordinary level in printmaking.
In 2017, two residencies gave Yamamoto the opportunity to expand his reach. Previously, he had limited himself to a black and white aesthetic. While in southern Spain, he absorbed the Moorish influences and embraced a rich color palette that added a new dimension to his current work.
This simple triangular composition of three elements is, in many ways, the foundation of visual communication.
At Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert of southern California he set out “to understand the dynamic and power of the wind.” This setting was the test site for the colorful series of intaglio kites that are featured in this installation. Suspended in the center gallery from criss-crossing trapeze-like lines, the formation resembles a flock of migratory birds in flight.
Traditional materials were used to create these kites, which managed the strong winds of the Mojave Desert. Structural bars were formed from Hawaiian bamboo, over which the hand-printed engravings were stretched. For printing, Yamamoto selected a Japanese paper made from the long, translucent fibers of the gampi plant, which is grown at high altitudes in Japan.
Discovery is at the heart of Yamamoto’s work.
Flanking the “murmuration” of kites, Yamamoto installed a series of seven Rokkaku (tailless, six-cornered fighting kites) on the gallery’s long concrete wall. Working with multiple engraved plexiglass plates, the artist layered elements to project a sense of animation and imagination.
Yamamoto notes, “Each kite has a life of its own, with distinct facial forms. Generally, the basic qualification of ‘face’ requires two eyes and one mouth. This simple triangular composition of three elements is, in many ways, the foundation of visual communication. I find an interest in the unlimited possibilities of combinations and expressions. Here, the bi-symmetrical imagery references insect forms, like the dragonfly wings which you see in several of the faces.”
Sharing a history lesson, Yamamoto explains that the hexagon-shaped kite form has been used for 2,000 years. In the 12th century, when the Mongolians invaded Japan, the much weaker Japanese military filled the sky with Rokaku kites to give the impression of a mightier force and create havoc for the invaders. The one-line hexagon kite is as current in the 21st century as it was in ancient time. For Yamamoto, it provides the cultural backdrop to merge traditional methods and contemporary imagery in his most recent printmaking project.
Koichi Yamamoto is Associate Professor of Art at the the University of
Tennessee in Knoxville. Aspect Ratio will be on exhibit at Gallery Shoal Creek through February 23, 2019. His interview on Austin Art Talk will be available February 4th.
Photographs by Scott David Gordon.