Featuring almost fifty-years of Ray Yoshida’s art, “Touch and Go” is an expansive exhibition that shows Yoshida’s artworks and collected objects alongside documentary photography of his home and studio scraps of comic book cut-outs and collages. While chiefly a career retrospective, the show also mixes Yoshida’s art and artifacts together with works he owned, chief amongst them being a succession of exceptional pieces by Roger Brown (Cutting the Rug from 1969 is not to be missed), Karl Wirsum, Sarah Canright, Ed Flood, Art Green, Philip Hanson, Jim Nutt, Christina Ramberg, Suellen Rocca and Barbara Rossi (with Ed Paschke and the lesser known James Falconer conspicuously absent). Nearly all of the work and itinerant objects and ephemera were culled from the Yoshida estate and artfully arranged by John Corbett and Jim Dempsey, the exhibition’s curators.
Installation view of "Touch and Go: Ray Yoshida and his Spheres of Influence". Photo by Sara Condo. Image courtesy School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Perhaps best known as a painter and collagist, the show also illuminates Yoshida’s prodigious collections of “trash treasures,” such as items thrifted from the Maxwell Street flea market, and the self-taught, folk and vernacular art he was so fond of and helped to promote, ranging from the work of Joseph Yoakum and Martin Ramírez to the painted wooden marquees placed outside of restaurants.
As a alumni of, and later a professor at, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1959 until 2003, Yoshida also “touched” the lives of a number of the students he worked with in his long career. The most vivid example of this is the Triple Twins series from 1974 featuring an exquisite corpse-style drawing and collage created by Yoshida, Ramberg and Rossi. Unlike many such Surrealist exquisite corpses, several of which are currently on display in the Modern Wing at The Art Institute, that feature wildly incoherent imagery and mismatched stylistic approaches neatly pieced together, Triple Twins underscores the similarities between these three artists, with the works appearing as seamless composites despite their distinct creators.
While the exhibition includes some excellent pieces by the formidable Peter Saul and the singular Öyvind Fahlström, the attempt to situate Yoshida within a larger art historical trajectory falters. Although all these artists drew inspiration from similar sources, their relationship to one another, if any, is unclear. Likewise, while it’s an admirable and perhaps rare occurrence to find a teacher such as Yoshida, who is also open to being a student by learning from his pupils as the show posits, the main position of the exhibition is stronger and more apparent—Yoshida’s personal, life-long drive to experiment with certain styles and symbols within his own unique visual vocabulary.
Ray Yoshida. Touch and Go, 1980. Acrylic on canvas, 38.5 x 50”. Photo courtesy of Karin Tappendorf by David M. Ward.
Ultimately, Yoshida’s experimentations are with abstract and figurative imagery, and his vacillation between them, and hybridization of them, is continually revisited and reinterpreted. Because their de-contextualization and modification is so breathtaking, there is truly something for everyone in this show; for those interested in Yoshida’s earlier Comic Specimens series begun in 1968, their unfolding development, maturation, detritus, and incorporation into other elements of Yoshida’s practice is all laid out for you. For those drawn to the Robed Figures of the early 1970s, their eerie, pockmarked surfaces and muddy coloration quiver from room to room. And for those simply interested in viewing the progression of an artist whose trajectory, when viewed linearly, is surprisingly more predictable than one might have imagined previously, from his early student work which featured images of totemic stacks, hieroglyphic matrices, and symmetrical mandalas, on through the aforementioned series which pursued Yoshida’s own vision in several imaginative combinations, then this too, is the show for you.
-Thea Liberty Nichols, ArtSlant Staff Writer