Q+Art: Muralist Erin Yoshi Tackles Climate Change by Traveling Back in Time
Artist Erin Yoshi has been exploring the relationship between humans and nature for decades with her thought-provoking paintings and vivid murals. Oftentimes, this means traveling back in time to capture an easier coexistence between people and the natural world. “In a time that places value on newness and technology, where the landscapes are made to be homogeneous and sterile, white walls are prioritized over color, I find myself craving that which is historic, natural and … transformed by human disregard and ravenous consumption,” writes Yoshi in her artist statement.
Yoshi paints sage women, symbols, and solemn animals to get her message of biodiversity across. Her figurative storytelling vibrates with a mystical history that appears in public places all over the world. The artist’s recent public art project The Land of We—seen on the streets of LA— tackles climate change by imagining a future where living in balance with nature becomes a mainstream practice.
“With signs of global warming starting to appear, I find myself clinging to the natural world, from rainforests to underwater canyons,” writes Yoshi, whose Land of We mural depicts the once endangered white-naped crane now thriving in the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. “I seek to highlight true beauty and raw emotions within humanity, while capturing the breath that connects us together,” she continues.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Erin Yoshi discusses getting drinks with Frida Kahlo, why “exposure bucks” won’t pay the rent, and what artists can learn from watching The Matrix. Scroll down to see amazing images of her work and hear more about her message of biodiversity.
What one book belongs on every artist’s shelf?
Erin Yoshi: Parable of the Talents and Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I know that's two, but they are a series. They are post-apocalyptic sci-fi about creating a new world out of the destruction of the old. I feel it is very relevant for today.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
EY: Frida Kahlo, but can it be dinner and drinks?
What are you trying to express with your art?
EY: The need to protect biological and cultural diversity for a livable future.
Do you prefer New York or Chicago-style pizza?
EY: This is a hard one, because I have never been to Chicago. So I don't know if my Bay Area version of Chicago-style pizza was authentic enough to count. So I feel I gotta say New York.
Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?
EY: Only if exposure became the new currency and they started accepting it for rent and food. Exposure bucks, it's shiny and accepted nowhere. I love telling people who work at large companies who ask, "I bet working at [this company] has done so much for your resume and given you so much exposure that they don't even need to pay you." It kinda puts the absurdity of their question into context.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
EY: Spray paint. I love it! It's good for my spirit, but not so good for my lungs. It's also not so environmentally green. The new water-based paint is much better.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
EY: "Creativity is not the things you make, but how you make your life" from artist/professor Brett Cook. I call him The Oracle. Spending time with him is like Neo going to see The Oracle, he tells you what you need to hear. Like being broke and making great things is not really that great. And some of the most creative people don't make things; they make their life amazing.
Is a formal arts education worth the money?
EY: I cannot say. I didn't go to school for art. With strict Asian parents, I got an MBA. Honestly, I learned the most traveling and painting with other artists. It was like art camp, it was totally worth the efforts of writing grants and fundraising to support our trip. I do think that it’s worth it to take business classes, it helps me every day in my arts practice.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
EY: Inclusion and diversity for women and people of color while they are alive, because honestly we have already seen all the collections by famous old white men who have passed away. How many times can you remix the same thing and call it a new take? It's time for more voices and perspectives to be present from artists, curators and directors.
Would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist?
EY: If we are talking about fame, historically significant. If we are talking about money, commercially successful. I break this up because I want to thrive when I am alive while making ripples of change with my art. I work hard to prove that both are possible simultaneously. The old model of the starving artist while alive but historically significant is not the model to replicate. That sounds like winning the lottery in exposure bucks.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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