Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ray Yoshida

On Wednesday, January 21, last week, the new York Times published Ken Johnson's obituary for the Chicago artist and art teacher from 1959 - 2000 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago:


For further illumination, here is Russell Bowman's discussion of Ray Yoshida from "Looking to the Outside: Art in Chicago, 1945 through 1975" from the Parallel Visions catalogue (LACMA and Princeton University Press, 1992):

Although he has frequently been associated with the generation of artists that matured in the late 1960s - that is, the imagist generation - Ray Yoshida is actually closer to Westermann's generation and was, in fact, a teacher to many of the later imagists. Born in Hawaii in 1930, he began attending the Art Institute of Chicago in 1950 with such classmates as John Chamberlain, Robert Barnes, Jack Beal and Richard Estes. Although Yoshida saw Golub's work at a gallery exhibition during that period, most important for his appreciation of tribal, folk, and outsider art was the teaching of Katherine Blackshear. A number of artists have acknowledged that Blackshear's practice of taking drawing classes to the Field Museum of Natural History was important for them. Blackshear, who was a disciple of Helen Gardner and assisted her in an edition of the text for Art Through the Ages (which integrated Western and non-Western art in its broad historical scope), brought examples of African, Native American, Oriental, as well as folk and naive artists into her slide lectures. Yoshida particularly remembers seeing work by New York untrained painter Morris Hirshfield and Wisconsin carver Albert Zahn. Yoshida did not go to, nor did he know of, Dubuffet's lecture in 1951. By the time he began teaching painting at the School of the Art Institute in the late 1960s and had artists of the Imagist generation such as Roger Brown, Christina Ramberg, and Phil Hanson in his classes, he not only knew of Dubuffet's interest in untrained artists but also was following in Blackshear's footsteps by bringing outsider and art brut materials and publications to share with his students.

Interestingly both Yoshida's art and his appreciation of the work of outsiders were fueled by his friendship and frequent contact with students whom he had first inspired - Brown, Hamson, Ramberg, and others. It was with these friends that Yoshida would search Chicago's Maxwell Street flea markets, looking for what they called "trash treasures," that is, commercial catalogues, advertisements, toys, packaging, and anonymous handmade objects of all kinds (shell baskets, cigarette packages woven into purses or wrapped around coat hangers, dolls, lawn ornaments, button collections, and much more).

There ends Russell Bowman on Ray Yoshida and Chicago, who were so beautifully carrying on the tradition of Rimbaud when he wrote in the Alchemy of the Word:
  "For a long time I boasted that I was the master of all possible landscapes - and I thought the great figures of modern painting and poetry were laughable.
  "What I liked were: absurd paintings, pictures over doorways, stage sets, carnival backdrops, billboards, bright colored prints, old-fashioned literature, church Latin, erotic books full of misspellings, the kind of novels our grandmothers read, fairy tales, little children's books, old operas, silly old songs, the naive rhythms of country times."

Thank you Ray, Rimbaud and all our teachers of "trash treasures" :  in both the Wonder Cabinet of objects and the performed world of poetry, music, dance and theater in the Cabarets, coming down to us through time and through us in our endeavors.

1 comment:

  1. There will be a retrospective exhibition of Ray Yoshida's work in Honolulu, Hawaii March 12-June 18, 2010 at The Contemporary Museum at First Hawaiian Center. Admission will be free.
    for more info, visit www.tcmhi.org