Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Yuichi Yokoyama Exhibit

One of the museum/art gallery events that I'd mentioned coming up or on-going for anime or manga was Yuichi Yokoyama's exhibit at the Kawasaki Museum in Todoroki, from April 24 to June 20 (600 yen for adults). Normally, I'm not big on avante garde art just for the sake of novelty, but I did want to get a review written up, so it kind of meant that I had to actually go see it first. Fortunately, I like the Kawasaki Museum, and it's only 30 minutes from my apartment by bicycle, and I needed the exercise.

Yuichi started out as a traditionally trained artist working with oil paints on canvas in the 1990's. He eventually switched to pen/pencil on paper to work within manga as an art form, rather than as a publication media. That is, the choice to draw manga, or comics, is just like the choice to work with clay or chalk, it's just one of many materials available to use for making art. So, it's kind of a misnomer to call Yuichi a manga artist. Instead, he's an artist that makes manga, as well as making paintings and certain "weird things".

The Kawasaki Museum apparently worked pretty closely with Yuichi to bring his vision to the public. The display room had two long rows of tables set up in oval layouts, with the art laying on the tables and hanging from the walls. A seating area in the middle allows the viewer to rest while watching the slides projected on the two central walls. The display cases along the main walls mostly contain his earlier paint on canvas works. Only the first 1 or 2 paintings are in a realistic style and they come across as being kind of amateurish. He pretty quickly turns surreal and you can almost see him evolve and develop the characters present in his current works. The oval layout of the tables is deliberate. The artwork on the tables are excerpts of several of his manga works, including Travel, Niwa (Garden) and New Engineering. You start at the right middle of the outer oval and walk around clockwise. When you've gone full circle, you switch to the inside side of the table and go around in the opposite direction. Next you go to the inner oval and repeat the pattern again.

(Excerpt from Travel).

The primary work is Travel, a very simple, linear manga with no story. Three guys get on a train, walk through it, look at the other passengers, and then watch the landscape/cityscape go by. The movements are over-exaggerated, with even the smallest action taking on extreme importance. Yuichi plays with perspective, timing and pacing, jumping from close-ups of a new character's face to zoom outs showing the train racing through a field or a futuristic department store. The characters are all bizarre, but easily identifiable. He reuses them often both throughout Travel, and in the other titles as well. Garden is similar to Travel in that strange people do highly exaggerated things in strange landscapes; and New Engineering has the same characters fighting it out with super long swords, refrigerators and kitchen tables.

I picked up a copy of Travel from the museum's goods shop - it's 200 pages. I'll review it in a separate blog entry.

(Yuichi is the one facing the camera.)

Now, about the "weird things" comment. Yuichi was at the exhibit that day, in a little room just off the main exhibit space. He and a couple of assistants were removing stickers from a sheet and sticking them along every edge of the desk and chairs in the room. The stickers, hundreds of them, all had little designs on them that Yuichi had drawn. After about an hour (the time it took me to look at the rest of the exhibit), Yuichi took to placing the stickers on big sheets of card stock that he'd also drawn on. He also took time to add additional lines on the card stock using magic markers and a ruler. There were 2-3 other visitors in the room watching on, and after a while there was a phone call and Yuichi told the caller that he'd be leaving to meet them soon. So, I didn't have a chance to talk with him or ask for a photo with him. Leaving me without a clue as to what he intended to use the card stock and stickers things for. But he certainly seemed to have a plan in mind, anyway.

As I say, Yuichi is not so much of a manga artist as he is an artist that draws manga as art. He probably won't appeal to anyone that likes Bleach or Naruto. However, if you like off the wall, expressionistic characters with weird backgrounds and nonsensical situations, then you'll probably like Yuichi. At a minimum, if you like art and movement, you'll probably learn a lot by studying his techniques. I'd suggest checking out New Engineering to start with, and then go to Niwa or Travel. If Garo were still running today, Yokoyama would be a good fit for it.

More references:

Kawasaki Museum Monthly Magazine Feature Article on Yuichi
Comics Comics Interview with Yuichi
Description of Yuichi's 2007 Roppongi Art Show Appearance
Mad Ink Beard review of Travel

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