Sandra Yagi Art
year of birth: 1955
country: United States
Q1: When did you start making art?
I always enjoyed drawing, even at a very young age. I would draw on the blank flyleaves of my mother’s books. I once drew a cartoon in the inner cover of her Buddhist prayer book. Despite my love of art, I did not become a professional artist until my mid-30s. My parents, as a result of their experience of being detained in relocation camps along with other Japanese-Americans during World War II, were very risk averse. They strongly discouraged me from studying art, and insisted that I focus on something practical. Therefore, I pursued a career in finance/commercial banking. I did not draw or paint while I studied finance in graduate school. Eventually I missed doing art and took continuing education courses in watercolor, pastel, basic drawing, and figure drawing. As I became more serious, I got a studio and began showing my art work in 1995. In 2008 I left my career in banking and became a full time artist.
Q2: What does inspire you?
I am inspired by science, especially zoology and anatomy. I love to go and sketch at the natural history museum and the zoo. I also have lots of books on animals, insects, reptiles, and birds. I gain much inspiration from the old masters, as well as naturalists who illustrated their discoveries. My favorites are John James Audubon, Maria Sibylla Merian, and John Gould. I also enjoy mythology, as many of the tales illustrate human foibles which are still true today.
Q3: What are your techniques?
I paint in oil colors on board. I purchase pre-gessoed panels, and then apply a layer of neutral acrylic paint. I work up my ideas from thumbnail sketches to full sized final drawings, which are transferred to the prepared panel with tracing paper and graphite transfer paper. I go over the graphite lines with acrylic paint so that I can retain the outlines while I develop the background. My paintings usually have several thin layers of oil paint. I work dark to light, building up the layers.
Q4: What is the main idea or feeling behind your works?
My larger paintings usually have a melancholy feeling to them. I often think about the transitory nature of life, so many of my paintings include images of mortality. A number of works are “psychological” anatomy studies – cutaway skulls and instead of including the actual anatomy of the brain inside the cranium, I depict a psychological or metaphorical anatomy. Several of my paintings include lizards fighting or copulating inside the skull. I have done a lot of reading about the original primitive part of the brain that controls emotions, hunger and reproductive drive, and the evolution of the modern brain layered over the original primitive sections. These paintings are the product of my curiosity about how much of our behavior comes from this primitive brain.
Sometimes I do relatively humorous or whimsical works – I love to come up with mutant hybrid creatures and dancing conjoined skeletal twins. My mutant hybrid creatures are not random. I put a lot of thought into combining congruent colors and features in my unique critters and I think through their habitat, including what features they need in order to survive.
Q5: What is the main color of your art and why?
I find myself using a lot of blue – I don’t know why this is. I avoid excessive use of earth color in favor of blues, violets and toned down red.
Q6: What would you improve about your work and why?
I am seeking to improve my rendering of human figures. I want to improve on the translucency of skin, and use more delicate color.
Q7: Do you have any project for the future?
I’m working on faux antique maps. I was inspired by old maps from the 1600s which include illustrations of sea monsters and ships. I’m also about to start on human figures based on “flap anatomy” illustrations of old anatomical studies. Instead of inner visceral anatomy, I will portray birds, butterflies, other beasts and flora exploding from the chest and abdomen. I want to portray the idea of our inner animal nature, and that we are not separate from nature.
Q8: Describe yourself with 3 words capturing the essence of Sandra Yagi Art.
Dark, disturbing and beautiful.
Q9: Show us (link) your very first work. Describe it from techniques till feelings.
I’ve attached an early work that I have in digital file.
The painting, A Portrait of Tony, was a painting I did in 2001 of a friend who is also an artist, who did very disturbing but brilliant comic/graphic art. (My older, traditional works predating 1995, consisting of traditional landscapes and florals, are not on digital file, and I have not shown these since the works are so different from what I do today). It is painted on canvas , whereas now I paint mainly on gessoed panels, which give the surface a much smoother look. I think that from an emotional and aesthetic point of view, my work has remained relatively constant. I have added anatomical figures and hybrid animals to the mix.
Q10: What did change from your first work till now?
My art dealer and close friends have told me my painting techniques have improved. Also, from 1988 through 1995, I painted very mainstream subjects: still life, floral and landscapes. Starting in 1995, I felt like my work had to say something more about my feelings about the world and our mortality.
Q11: What is art for you? Escaping from reality or the essence of life?
I feel that I was meant to do art… so it is my reality.