Hiroko Yoshimoto, a local artistic force to be reckoned with, presents a solo exhibition of her recent paintings at the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard.
Yoshimoto’s recognizable figurative style has been replaced by an explicitly abstract body of work that the artist began two years ago. Derived from free-form sketches that she created in watercolor and colored ink while in Japan, “Biodiversity” speaks of Yoshimoto’s strong desire to see the perpetuation of nature’s diversity in the face of the destruction caused by human hands. These initial sketches suggest paintings in their own right, and Yoshimoto’s keen understanding of color attests to that. Most of the sketches are on display at the museum.
After retiring from a career in art education that spanned more than 30 years, Yoshimoto continues to be a relevant artist. She is continually inspired by her surroundings and personal observations of current environmental changes. Thoughts stirred by issues such as human-caused extinction; air, land and water pollution; habitat encroachment; poaching and more are at the root of the inspiration for Yoshimoto’s latest body of work. The artist read several books by ecologists and biologists, including Edward O. Wilson, which fueled her original concepts into full-fledged paintings.
The result is a series of controlled explosions of colors and shapes, teeming with lines of varying widths and lengths and peppered with scribbles, specks, dots and streaks. Delicate organic contours intersect jagged, jarring and geometric lines, creating an animated surface of what seems like a living organism. There is an underlying structure to the abstract chaos: Meticulously drawn lines and purposeful swirls float amid the vibrant topography of Yohimoto’s surfaces.
Some of the work is reminiscent of a close view of life underwater. Although the artist doesn’t make direct reference to scientific photography, her paintings seem clearly influenced by the observation of nature on a molecular level. Despite their beautiful execution and grand aesthetic appeal, each painting is modestly numbered. This works to the exhibit’s advantage as it deters the viewer from seeking “guidance” from the title, a common crutch when viewing abstract work. The viewer is left to experience each exuberant painting with no reference to a title.
The paintings are robust and vibrant, sensual and rich. Some are of grand scale, nearing 8 feet in height (Yoshimoto used a stepladder to tackle the larger pieces, which caused her a shoulder injury that set her back three months.) What’s most compelling about the work is the subtle communication of, most likely, Yoshimoto’s propensity for a tinge of the psychedelic (most likely unbeknown to her). If you pictured a magnified cell of a living organism, you’d see wandering tendrils and twisting strands, amorphous shapes and organic forms, rigid and snake-like lines. Now, if you were to add some comic book sound effects and lettering — BLAM! POW! WHAM! — you’d arrive at the bulk of the work. Biodiversity exemplifies something: the relevance and appeal of pattern within chaos. The artist’s concerns about the conservation of diversity are palpable, yet disguised by the utter guilty pleasure of looking at her paintings. Yoshimoto shines as an abstract painter of vast technical ability and exceptional imaginative resources.
“Biodiversity” at the Carnegie Art Museum through May 18. 424 S. C St., Oxnard. 385-8158 or www.carnegieam.org.