For Seattle-based artist Ko Kirk Yamahira, the finished painting is a beginning rather than an end. Painstakingly removing individual threads from the weave of the canvas, he deconstructs his paintings, turning surface into form. He often disrupts the geometry of the support as well, cutting out sections of the wooden stretcher bars to create detached segments bound by loose thread. These remain unfixed and without prescribed orientation, free to be reconfigured over time. Each individual (untitled) work, in turn, functions as a facet of a single project that can never be finished, part of what Yamahira sees as a continuous, daily process of becoming through undoing. This exhibition, Yamahira’s first solo museum presentation, samples the artist’s recent output—including several pieces made for the occasion—to offer a meditation on identity, duality, and the relativity of perception.
Several works in the exhibition are obverse pairs, such as two pieces with the same image—two smiling young women posing for a snapshot—repeatedly silkscreened in a grid over the entire canvas. Yamahira has removed all the vertical threads from one and all the horizontal threads from the other, testing the ways in which such alterations effect the legibility of the image, and allowing the viewer’s gaze to pass through it to the wooden crossbars behind. This line of inquiry is continued in a new suite of four works in which Yamahira adheres the paint-stained threads removed from other works directly to the stretcher bars, fusing the disintegrated image surface and the interior support that it typically conceals. Each of these paintings appears as a four-paned window suspended in front of the wall, literalizing the illusionistic “window on the world” of traditional, representational painting.
Marking, which is usually an additive process, becomes reductive in another new pair of works, puncturing through the surface in an all-over pattern of seemingly spontaneous swirls and curlicues. These works sit on the floor and lean up onto adjacent walls, projecting into the viewer’s space and occupying the space behind with shadow images—a negative of the canvas surface in which the “markings” are visible as light. In these ways and more, the exhibition subtly probes the essential nature of painting, distilling a simultaneity of object and image; the function of contrast in the definition of form; and the time-based aspect of both creation and reception.
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Tokyo and London, Ko Kirk Yamahira moved to Seattle from New York in 2015. Individually and as a member of the artist collectives The ConArtist and ART BEASTIES, he has exhibited in galleries across the US and in Japan.
Ko Kirk Yamahira is organized by the Frye Art Museum and curated by Amanda Donnan. Generous support is provided by ArtsFund, the Frye Foundation, and Frye Art Museum members.