Yukako Sakakura graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 2008. Her captivating drawings and videos were shown in Harrogate later that year. Now working from her studio near Tokyo, her delicate paintings and drawings combining both abstract and figurative elements, creating a beautiful, curious and intimate sense of time and place. Her first solo exhibition was held at 108 Fine Art in March 2011. Yukako’s 2012 Harrogate exhibition was reviewed well by Jackie Wullschlager in the Financial Times 'Critics Choice', and has featured in Vogue and BBC ‘In Pictures’
Someday You Will Repel Our Colours Acrylic on canvas, 2016 72.7 x 100 cm
Over the last few years I have been concerned about the issue of nuclear power, and my thoughts on this have had a lasting influence on my work. Although I don't want to focus exclusively on the Fukushima nuclear disaster, seeing the results of this particular accident – the repercussions of which are still felt to this day - was painful enough for me to question and rethink humanity’s ambition to control the natural world. My new series of paintings "We Can Be the Best Fixer", is ironically titled; referring to our optimistic but potentially damaging wishes to modify the natural world to suit our own demands. I have tried to create a sense of allegory, which tells of the cognitive dissonance caused by attempting to maintain a balance between conventional morality, and our drive towards power and technological development. As the small figure travels through the series of paintings, her various acts and poses reveal the way in which she either adopts or rejects ideologies and emotional perspectives in relation to different societal modernisations and advancements. As with my previous series, the titles themselves function as an integral part of each image: acting as the voice of the small figure, in order to reveal humanity’s internal struggle.
The first part of this series - works made in 2015 - shows a story of what I call "Awkward Positivism", generated from the often unsound arguments we make concerning the nature of our unstoppable drive towards technological development in modern life. I have attempted to contrast a sense of visual sentimentality with confident, self-assured sounding titles; as well as using bold colours and simple marks to imply an idea of pure spontaneity that one might associate with a child drawing.
The small figure adopts assertive poses; the way in which she pushes back peeled off flowers while holding fake, bubble-looking leaves, revealing her need to control the world around her. The deliberately bold, simple marks add to the story, indicating that humanity’s ideological visions of the natural world can be easily modified: redrawn depending on our demands and wishes, like a child doodling in a book. At the same time, the complete flatness of the painted marks reveal that we are changing only the surface of the natural world; not managing to utterly control and tame nature as a whole.
Since 2016, I've started work on the second part of this series, with the “Distortion” of the first part - “Awkward Positivism” - becoming the main theme. As history shows, our arrogant striving towards power can’t last forever – and ironically, the resultant set-backs have the potential to last much longer than the period in which we misused our power and advancement. In this series of paintings, the colours and visual references become quieter - more fragile - as if previewing the weakness of our ideological world. As can be seen in the painting titled "How Many Arrows Should We Make For A Better Life?"(1), there are many arrows lifting up flowers and moving them in a certain direction. These hidden arrows represent the desire of many people to visualise the world as ideal and beautiful, even if this desire is based on fabrication and wish-fulfillment. In the work titled “Still Gears Are Out Of Our Composition"(2), the simply painted, pink flowers with fresh green leaves against the backdrop of a blue sky remind us of the visuals of the “Awkward Positivism” paintings. The bold, bright flowers in this piece are overlaid in a fragmented manner atop a dull, cloudy space with quiet, almost monochromatic flowers. These partially obscured, quieter flowers – which suggest the idea of gears from the painting’s title – look particularly weak and insubstantial beneath the superimposed bright blue sky that dominates the picture plane. This contrasted composition shows the balance of two worlds – the real and the imagined – with the quiet flowers representative of the more realistic, questioning part of our natures, which has the potential to be much stronger than the ideological reality we create in order to comfort ourselves.
As we are all aware, it’s hard to blame people for questing for a better life, even if the result of this quest will actually sacrifice everyone’s quality of life in the end. Deep down, most people are aware of the danger to our own future this poses – though no one seems able to offer concrete answers as to a workable balance between our morality and ambitions. This is why I love to show this struggle through my work, as I believe this very human conflict reveals life as it really is, rather than sending only one solid message to viewers.
Artists statement - August 2015
My current body of work relates to humanity's relationship towards nature and the concept of control. It questions modern life and the way in which we often wish to modify the natural world for our own demands; with morals being sacrificed to ambition and a drive towards power and technological development.
The deliberately simple marks -which call to mind a child's doodling - imply a desire to draw a picture of an idealized world. The remarkably small figure which appears in the work shows mixed and chaotic emotion as it adopts its various poses - reacting to the weight of abstract space which dominates the image. This depicts a metaphorical expression that relates to the experience of humanity as a whole, emphasizing how seemingly small and insignificant our lives can be. However, once you find the presence of the figure in the picture, the meaning of the work can change.
Story of Yellow -
Series of paintings 2014
The inspiration of Yukako's series of paintings " This Afternoon Invaded Into Our Spring" came from the poem by Kamituke No Mineo, one of the oldest Japanese laments from Kokin Waka Shu (the collected poems edited in 905).
"Oh Cherry Blossoms, if you have a heart, please bloom the colour of thin black ink just for this year"
"We Know Spring Doesn't Have Heart" created in 2011 was inspired especially by this poem.
In Japan, cherry blossoms/Sakura in Japanese are the most culturally important and beloved trees, and they are symbolic for re-birth and the word "Sakura" is used as a season word for spring.
"In 2011, 3.11 happened just before our cherry blossom season. I felt, in my deep heart, I didn't want to see cherry blossoms in bloom as it was too painful to me;
I remember I wrote on my sketchbook, "Cherry blossoms bloomed, but nothing has started, we just saw the end....
At that time, I found nothing could be trusted and everything I saw was unstable and fragile, and this feeling didn't make me use bright colours, and also the visual references became much more elusive than before.
However I knew I couldn't live in this world of tears for too long,
I needed to force myself to be strong-spirited and face the reality. There are so many things we learned from this disaster, and I wanted to tell that through my works.
So I came up with the idea that I had to do something extremely unusual for me to break the weak-spirited in my heart.
Using "Yellow" , the colour I hated the most to use for my work, was the answer.
However it took a while to use it on the final surface, I cannot remember how many times I covered the yellow with dark colours to hide the brightness.
I could not be brave enough instantly. It wasn't mentally easy, although this change made my idea toward this series much more solid for certain.
The clearly outlined splashed water drop and bold brush marks in a lot of recent works are aimed at showing our human desire to control the wildness. This was also the big change from 2011 to 2013-2014.
Furthermore, most of the time, I intentionally washed-out or spoiled the image once it was almost completed. This is because I wanted to create the visible and physical history of covering up struggle, conflict and chaos underneath the almost even colourful canvas surface.
But when the viewers get closer, then they will see the tracks in the fragments.
This process became so important in my work.
As you might have realized, I always want those contrasts in my work; darkness behind brightness, complexity behind simplicity, the dual nature is the reality of the world my work creates.
Ironically I also think that this yellow challenge emphasised on the dark side of this series more than my early work in 2011.
I really like this result."
Yukako Sakakura October 2014