by Stephen Westfall
Yayoi Asoma's spectacular paintings have the humblest of beginnings, from photographs and memories of the house she grew up in, in Chappaqua, NY, where her parents still live. As they manifest in a gallery space of appropriate scale, the paintings expand their biographical material into a grand formal display of something that we may have not known or forgotten we were missing: the potential of a post-Cubist representational space to intensify an experience of a thing or place rather than confuse it or render it nostalgic. I think this is so because, since Matisse, post-Cubist rupture of a coherent pictorial space (the equivalent of montage in film or theatre) has largely disappeared, or else has been submerged so deep into pictorial structure as to be non-declarative even as it torques the entire spatial field, as in the paintings of Malcom Morley, Lucian Freud, and Rackstraw Downes.
The closest compositional analogs to Asoma's panoramic sequences of breaks and sudden vectors might be David Hockney's reiteration of post-Cubist space in his photo-collages and Gordon Matta-Clark's photo documentations of his swooping cuts into buildings. But these are photographs, not paintings. Their surfaces are missing the tactile "feeling out" of the painted mark and, by literal extension, the reach of the body in real space. Not Asoma's paintings. Photography for her is a starting point, a kind of note taking or an on site sketch. Back in her painting studio, photographs of interiors and exteriors of the Chappaqua home are pieced together and adjusted for some equipoise between transitions that make narrative sense and abrupt breaks that shift scale, bring light into dramatic collisions with shadow, and establish a corollary between shifts in spatial vectors and levels of memory. Perhaps most importantly, the photographic elements are blown up to a scale where painting more productively takes over as a rendering process, not to preserve the material integrity of the grain of a working print, but to establish another level of presence at a scale where the photographic grain starts to break down, or else lose any connection to the scale of human application (in their technologically jaw-dropping cohesion, the prints of Andreas Gursky or Thomas Struth only confirm this apprehension).
Asoma's paintings are dream like without the irruptions of the id (that would be Surrealism). Their spaces adhere to the eye in the manner of dream space, which seems to follow us as subjects. As our eye moves through the exteriors, or around the exteriors of the home we are aware that every plane, every splinter or fragment of a view, even those at steep angles of perspective, is directly addressed to the gaze. Simultaneously, the paint surface, built up in transparent or semi-transparent washes, advances as a material presence, delicate but insistent in its buildup. Bonnard does something similar, but usually with a smaller and less loaded brush (fewer drips in Bonnard). And Asoma's palette is narrower than that of Bonnard's mature paintings; she stays in the grays and greens of the early Nabis. I think this at least partly because a broader and warmer chromatic range would undermine the elegiac undertow of her otherwise monumental pictorial constructions. This is the house she grew up in, through and around which she wanders, or floats as if in a dream. The paintings draw the viewer's full body into her dream, close to the literal scale of both the interior and exterior of a house viewed at the site and the concrete scale of the artist's body making a painting across such an area. So it's more than a dream or a memory that's present here. It's a fresh mapping of sensation achieved through a reawakening of dormant formal methods. This is an auspicious beginning for a young painter setting out, but I think these paintings would be impressive for a painter at any age.