A Chat with GRB4 Artist Yoskay Yamamoto

Yoskay Yamamoto in front of his artwork, Wish You Were Here.
Yoskay Yamamoto in front of his artwork, Wish You Were Here.


Giant Robot Biennale 4 is filled with outstanding artworks. One of the most attention-grabbing is perhaps Yoskay Yamamoto’s Wish You Were Here, a complex, wall-mounted installation composed of numerous small paintings, photo-transfer panels, hand-carved wooden sculptures, and hanging objects. Displayed near the back of JANM’s upper-level galleries, Wish You Were Here stuns viewers with its exuberant presence.

Shortly before GRB4 opened, Yamamoto graciously answered a few questions about this work and the others he has in the show.

JANM: Did you custom-make Wish You Were Here for this exhibition?

Yoskay Yamamoto: Yes. This is a type of installation that I’ve been working on since 2012; I think that was the first time I did something with the panels and suspended sculptures together as one piece. From there, I gradually added more panels, and repainted more, adding different color palates and textures. The latest additions are the sunset hues and scenery, painted to fit into this particular kind of color palette.

Yoskay Yamamoto's Wish You Were Here.
Yoskay Yamamoto’s Wish You Were Here.


JANM: What were the inspirations behind this piece?

YY: The sunset is one of the main visual elements in the 100 panels I brought here. Ever since I started living in Los Angeles, I’ve been fascinated by how beautiful the sunset is in the city. At the same time, I’ve heard it’s due to the smog we have. I find this ironic. If I’m outside at the right time, I try to photograph the sunsets I see. Then I use a lot of them as reference.


JANM: So you were born in Japan?

YY: Yes, in this small seaside town called Toba, which has a population of about 22,000. It’s decreasing every year because the younger generation ends up leaving to go to bigger cities.

Yoskay Yamamoto's California Dreamin' and Keep On Shining
Yoskay Yamamoto’s California Dreamin’ and Keep On Shining.


JANM: What brought you to California?

YY: Toba is a sister city to Santa Barbara, so I went to high school there and then studied graphic design at the community college. To pursue my art, I moved to San Francisco for about a year. Then, ironically, I got assigned to a gallery in LA. So I packed up my stuff and moved down here.

Yoskay Yamamoto's Cosmic Boy.
Yoskay Yamamoto’s Cosmic Boy.
JANM: Can you tell us about the other three pieces you have in the show?

YY: The smaller wall installation is called Cosmic Boy. I bought a bootleg Astro Boy figure from Hong Kong on eBay, and I just took the head off and re-sculpted it. Then I had my friend fabricate 25 of them for me.

I also have two paintings here called Keep on Shining and California Dreamin’. These are both based on the old Americana signage that I see around LA. I think this is something that’s dying in culture—I don’t think anybody is making these signs any more. I like seeing the craftsmanship in them—there’s something special and magical about it. I try to pick some titles or combinations of words that I like, to give a positive message to them.

Giant Robot Biennale 4 is on view at JANM through January 24, 2016.

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