'This Is America' by John Yaou at [blnk]haus Gallery
“Each subject in this series has their antithesis, the yin and yang, the duality of our culture, the masculine and the feminine, the opposing and complimentary. Each figure’s skin is painted gray, to show that scientifically there is only one species, Human.” – John Yaou
When I first entered [blnk]haus gallery, the American flags standing at attention lined up between a row of images on a brick wall of politically related figures you feel how powerful it is. This work is part of the solo exhibit This is America by John Yaou that examines current political oppositions, representing each side without bias.“
John has expressed from the beginning, it was never about assigning sides or a biased view but rather the authentic truth of our current American condition. It's up to the viewer to assign emotion and how they would want to be moved,” said Rachel Lechokcki co-owner of [blnk]haus in Logan Square with Andrew Rehs.
Similarly, John Yaou shared, “Each subject in this series has their antithesis, the yin and yang, the duality of our culture, the masculine and the feminine, the opposing and complimentary. Each figure’s skin is painted gray, to show that scientifically there is only one species, Human. Race as a classification is a man-made construct, genetically we are all the same.”
“In recent times our culture has become one of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” I wanted to represent that hard nosed political and cultural stance by positioning each subject on the side of the aisle in which they politically or culturally represent,” said John Yaou
That equality without taking a side runs through the entire show. “Despite his own cultural and military background playing a role in his own expression, his decision to stray away from this in discussion of the series was bold in order to commit to the original purpose of the message,” said Rachel. John has kept his one views out of the exhibit to leave it an open conversation with unbiased positions, just discussion.
Rachel also mentioned, “It has caused a bit of backlash from the keyboard warriors, but it only further drove John's original and primary intention of sharing these works with the public, raw and emotional discussion about the current state of the American experience.”
At first glance this show seems super political and might turn people off, but the overall message is to look deeper beyond the surface. That’s what John did with the detail involved in the show. For example, he stated, “the numerology in the series has significance, twelve painting which represent a jury and six flags that represent pallbearers.”
There is so much into this show beyond just seeing flags and images at first glance. Including details of the layout beyond just the numerology. I got to interview John Yaou in depth about This is America’s details, preparation, and more.
Before we get into the interview, here’s some insider detail into the show from Rachel. “Laura Catherwood held a fundraiser Pop-Up for Raises, an organization out of Texas that provides relief to those seeking asylum. Local artist, activist and friend Josh Harks provided footage (accompanied with jars of broken glass labeled from various different DC storefronts) from the Trump inauguration protests."
"We want to foster more discussion while the show is up and hope to encourage the community’s voice at our upcoming Artist Talk with John on December 9th from 7:30-8:30 pm where he will be able to speak in depth about his experience creating the series and the message, he is intending to express in these twelve powerful paintings," said Rachel.
GXM: What’s a quick snippet about your background? (Where you grew up, influences, how you got into art, etc.)
JY: I was born in the City of Chicago in 1981. Shortly after being born, my family moved to Athens, Greece. I lived in Athens until I was 8 years old, we then moved back to Chicago. Growing up in Chicago I have always had an interest in art as an escape from classwork. Continuously drawing in notebooks while I should have been completing schoolwork. As I grew up, I became heavily involved in graffiti as a creative outlet, it gave me a voice artistically. When I got a bit older, I became influenced by the works Warhol, Schiele and Ai Weiwei.
GXM: How would you describe your art style? And how has this evolved to where you are now?
JY: As a painter, I would consider my style as Urban Contemporary. My focus is to use traditional techniques on “Urban” or “Street” art in hopes of merging the gap between the urban art enthusiast and the fine art lover. My early work focused more on graffiti as the focal point of my paintings, it relied more on the pop aspect rather than being work filled with substance. My work has evolved into work solely based on substance, its intent to make the viewer think and feel. Although the subject matter has changed, I have kept the methodology consistent, using meticulous detailing on the subject matter, this technique makes the work distinguishable from other artists.
GXM: What is your go-to mediums/methods for creating your work?
JY: For my paintings, I prefer to use acrylic and oil. I use acrylic for the majority of the paintings, its flexibility allows me to paint layers thinly enough to make brush strokes almost disappear. I use oil paint for all my highlights, due to their high pigment, it gives them a richness and vibrancy. I use this step as a way to give life to the figure in my work.
GXM: Is there a medium you want to try/learn?
JY: So many. I would love to learn to use watercolor, gouache and learn to screen print. I have tried them but would love to become proficient.
“I want the viewer to take an objective look at the series, feel the emotions and reflect as to why they feel that way. I want this series to point out the hypocrisy of both political sides. Lastly, I want to open a dialogue from both sides, in hopes that compromise not division will mend the divide.” – John Yaou
GXM: Can you tell me more about your show This is America?
JY: In recent times our culture has become one of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” I wanted to represent that hard nosed political and cultural stance by positioning each subject on the side of the aisle in which they politically or culturally represent. The background of each painting is representative of the chaos in our society today and the negative space between subjects is the divide that is occurring between the political “Right” and “Left”…
The only use of color in this series is to represent the individuality of each subject, and to represent that through all this darkness and gloom, there is always hope and brightness. The titles of each piece are also meant to give each subject their individuality. Our jobs as artists is similar to a journalist, we are compelled to document important times in history, the only difference is that while doing so, we attempt to evoke emotion.
GXM: Most challenging aspect of preparing for the show? How long did it take?
JY: The series from start to completion took 12 months. I personally felt this series to be important and I did not want to rush it. The most challenging aspect of the series were the flags. Burning the flags were difficult, and emotionally this series took its toll.
GXM: All of the pieces in your show are powerful. This may be difficult to narrow down but, what are a couple of the pieces you favor or are most passionate about for the show?
JY: This one is extremely difficult, I feel I left a piece of myself in each. Every time I think one is my favorite, I choose another. From a strictly personal level, my favorites in no significant order would be, “The Future Is Feminine,” “The Patriarchy” and “I Am.” From an aspect strictly based on execution they would be “Not Pride, Only Prejudice” and “Native Invader.”
GXM: Is there something you want people to take away from the show?
JY: I want the viewer to take an objective look at the series, feel the emotions and reflect as to why they feel that way. I want this series to point out the hypocrisy of both political sides. Lastly, I want to open a dialogue from both sides, in hopes that compromise not division will mend the divide.
GXM: What’s next for you? Any upcoming shows, events, etc.?
JY: First a short but much needed break. Planning to start the next series of work in January, expecting to have it finished by June. I always have shows popping up but would love to showcase this series again during the primary elections in 2020.
GXM: What is a dream project you have in mind?
JY: I don’t particularly have a dream project. I would love to be a showcasing Artist at Art Basel, and I would love the opportunity to showcase my work on both the East and West Coasts.
Thank you to [blnk]haus and John Yaou for their time.
Check out the ARTIST TALK with John Yaou at [blnk]haus in Logan Square, Chicago with John Yaou: December 9th from 7:30-8:30
Check out John Yaou on Instagram.
Check out [blnk] haus on Instagram.