Getting Started at Age 89 | Go Yayanagi "Hop Step Jump" Solo Exhibition Interview

July 15, 2022
Tokyo, Japan

Go Yayanagi's solo exhibition "Hop Step Jump" installation view

The Whitestone Ginza New Gallery is holding a solo exhibition entitled "Hop Step Jump" by Go Yayanagi, an artist who has received worldwide acclaim for his vivid eroticism and humor. To commemorate the exhibition, we bring you a two-part interview that features the life and works of Go Yayanagi. Following on from the first part where we looked back on his life as an artist, the second part of the interview explores the theme behind "Hop Step Jump" and the artist's plans for the future.

Go Yayanagi stands in front of his painting "Dream Frog. Spring Has Come!"

Go Yayanagi's Theme Behind “Hop Step Jump”

Go Yayanagi's solo exhibition "Hop Step Jump" installation view

What is the meaning behind the title of the solo exhibition "Hop Step Jump"?

Yayanagi:"Hop Step Jump" is a phrase used in track and field, specifically referring to the Triple Jump event. When I moved to Tokyo from the countryside, I decided to start painting after being inspired by a work by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). That was my "hop". I then continued painting while traveling all over the world, which was my "step". And now I have come to my "jump".

It has been 70 years since I started painting, and it passed by in the blink of an eye. Now I have to make another big jump towards the future. And at this moment, I am making a big jump forward. That is the meaning behind the exhibition title "Hop Step Jump".

Creating the Main Visual Image "Earth Coexistence"

Go Yayanagi's "Earth Coexistence" (2022), 162.0 × 130.0 cm, oil and acrylic on canvas

What was your intention and idea in making the exhibition's main visual image "Earth Coexistence"?

Yayanagi: In this painting, I drew a scene I saw in Brazil. I saw a lot of cows and horses when I traveled by car from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. When I saw those scenes, it made me realize that I was truly in Brazil, and I felt like I was having a conversation with myself.

The image in "Earth Coexistence" is divided into several parts with blue lines. What is the meaning behind this?

Yayanagi:I decided to make it into a composition with dividing lines to express a conflict of space. There are stripe patterns on the left and right, and there is a mysterious heart-like object floating in the middle. As the title suggests, the painting's theme is "coexistence in the earth". The earth is a shared home, and all life in it coexist together. The earth's environment is gradually deteriorating, but if we don't learn to coexist, there will be no future for the human race. That's my idea behind the painting.

Go Yayanagi's "Color is the Flower of Heart" (2022), 60.8 × 72.7 cm, oil and acrylic on canvas

Many of your paintings have strange compositions or depict strange forms. How do you decide on the motif of your paintings?

Yayanagi: I grew up in the countryside where my family owned a ranch, so I was always surrounded by animals since childhood. I studied livestock breeding in the Obihiro Agricultural High School, and I performed many animal dissections. There is a disease called "equine infectious anemia" that is specific to horses. This disease reminded me that organisms can enter our bodies without us realizing it.

Though it's not constantly in my mind, when I'm making a painting, the objects I paint sometimes turn out to have strange, flabby forms, or the straight and curved lines become mixed and twisted with each other. This happens naturally, and I sometimes think that what I just painted is not my painting.

The Origin of Go Yayanagi's Quintessential Stripe Pattern

Go Yayanagi's "Nature's Ecology" (2021), 45.5 × 53.3 cm, oil and acrylic on canvas

Many of your paintings from early in your career and up to your latest works depict a black and white stripe pattern. What is the meaning behind this?

Yayanagi:The stripe pattern that I always put in my paintings comes from the zebra that I saw in Africa. When I was in the middle of nature in Africa, I once saw a zebra standing alone, away from its herd. When I saw that zebra, I felt startled. I wondered about the meaning of that lone zebra's existence, and I realized that its black and white colors are the fundamental colors of nature.

Later on in France, I thoroughly studied about the colors black and white. You cannot use colors properly without an understanding of black and white. Black and white are the most beautiful colors. I think of white as life, and black as death. All life must experience birth and death. And among all life, the zebra represents those two polar opposites.

"Creating Freely" is the Most Challenging in Art

Exhibition installation view

The phrase "creating freely" has come up several times in this interview. Is being able to express yourself freely an important thing to you?

Yayanag:It is very important. But creating freely is the most difficult thing. Paradoxically, having freedom is a very restricted condition. Though I see freedom of speech as a unique phenomenon, in the world of painting, I always think that there is nothing more difficult than having freedom.

You create artworks every day. Do you have any routine in your creative work?

Yayanagi: Of course I do. This interview right now, and wherever I go, whatever plants or trees I see around me – all of these things constantly give me creative ideas.

Nature is honest. Nature never lies. Flowers may bloom and fall, but that is not the end of it. Everything is a cycle. Nature is a living thing. You don't see that aspect of nature if you just live your life normally. But nature's existence and composition holds a certain kind of beauty.

For example, if you turn on a faucet, water comes out, swirls around the sink, then goes down the drain. It may look like the water is going down on its own, but it is not. It is being pulled by gravity. There is always something to learn from this simple phenomenon.

At this age, I think I've finally understood that there is something to be found in every moment of beauty, speed, time, or sound as I live my life every day (laughing).

Exhibition installation view

Many of your paintings make use of organisms or raw sensual beauty as a subject. Does this come from your idea that "nature is honest"?

Yayanagi:Nature doesn't lie, it never does. In contrast, I believe there is nothing more arbitrary on this earth than human beings (laughing). Perhaps nature is sensitive, or nature is the universe itself. You can say that in painting terms, nature has a definite composition.

Nature has many different elements, and one of those is art. There are different kinds of beauty inside nature, and if you make art after experiencing that beauty, then the beauty of nature will sprout out in your work.

Deciding on the Composition, Forms, and Colors

Go Yayanagi's "Riding a Flying Dragon into the Future" (2021), 162.1 × 130.3 cm, oil and acrylic on canvas

Many of your paintings in recent years have a more definite composition. Do you decide on the composition before you start painting?

Yayanagi:I decide on the composition to some extent before painting, but it often changes as I make the painting. It may be about a small unnoticeable thing, but I'm constantly fighting myself when I paint. Whether it's the composition, the colors, or the forms I drew in the sketch, as soon as I put it onto the canvas, I find myself thinking, "Wait a minute, this form is too soft" or "These colors are out of balance". I notice many things that I didn't see in the sketch, so I'm always in conflict with myself as I paint.

In the end, it's not about reason, but rather the conflict of space between myself and the painting starts to match perfectly. I say to myself out loud "Alright!" and the conflict finally ends. It doesn't end until I say "Alright." I’d keep on dwelling on the painting that I'm working on even when I eat, sleep, or do anything else.

Exhibition installation view

Your paintings typically have vivid colors that are devoid of shading. What is your idea about colors?

Yayanagi:I often think about what colors I should use next. My paintings are like a color matching game, and if the colors are not layered properly, the painting becomes a mess. That's why painting a color once or twice is not enough for me. Depending on the color, I sometimes paint it five or six times over. I have to do that to establish the spatiality of the painting.

The colors that I paint over cannot be seen. They are buried underneath. Some people tell me that my paintings look like coloring books for children, but that's because I redo the colors until I'm satisfied with it. Colors are like the sun to me. If there is no sun, there is no color.

One of the things I learned in Paris was making stained glass. I visited the Chartres Cathedral every day to see its world-famous stained glass windows. The stained glass windows appear differently every time I visit. The reds are always red, the blues are always blue, and the greens are always green, but their interaction with the light gives them a beauty that is unique in every single moment. The wonderful colors of stained glass come out because there is light. At night when it is dark, you cannot see their colors. Colors and light coexist with each other, and it's all about how you interpret their interaction.

The Artist Go Yayanagi's Outlook for the Future

Go Yayanagi's "Dream Frog. Spring has come!" (2022)

What are your plans for the future?

Yayanagi: I have been painting for over 70 years, but I believe that I've only just begun. My painting "Dream Frog. Spring has come!" depicts a jumping frog, and like this frog, I myself have just begun to jump.

Of course, there's also the will of the heavens, so I cannot say for sure what will happen in the future. But I plan to keep jumping as much as I can, and I hope to live out my remaining years painting what I like.

Appreciate the Paintings Freely, Just as I’ve Created Them Freely

Go Yayanagi wearing a jacket he designed himself. He also has a profound knowledge of fashion.

Lastly, how do you want visitors to experience this solo exhibition?

Yayanagi: I want them to converse with the paintings. I want them to stand in front of a painting and wonder "What is this painting about?". I want them to appreciate the paintings freely, even if they just see a strange form or they feel that the colors are a bit off. Even if they don't feel anything at first, I want them to look deep into the painting and discover something, just like letting your imagination fly when you read a book.

I believe that the deeper the life of a person, the more they can understand a painting philosophically. Even people who know nothing about paintings can feel quite impressed when they look at a painting. This is true not just for paintings, but for theater and music as well. Based on the experiences they have had in their life, every person can have a different reaction to a painting.

That's why I want them to just appreciate the paintings freely without too much thought.

Exhibition installation view

Since his decision to delve into art during his college years, Go Yayanagi has lived over 70 years as an artist. Despite countless outstanding achievements that include works in international exhibitions and paintings exhibited in art museums worldwide, he’sjust getting started. His words in this interview reveal his humility and optimism, where you can feel his relentless search for new possibilities. We invite you to visit the gallery and or viewthe online exhibition to experience the "hop" and "step" that Go Yayanagi has made in the past, and the leap that he is making.

Click here for exhibition details

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