New York

Ray Yoshida

Phyllis Kind Gallery

Ray Yoshida’s unusual painting style has long made him an important representative of Chicago Imagism. His richly inventive fantasy landscapes are heavily worked over, which gives them their mannered, idiosyncratic, and obsessive quality. In Yoshida’s art, great effort is expended in a desire to describe the indescribable, an urge to contain the elusive. His images are indistinct in narrative and act as studied episodes from some unseen larger text, or as variations on themes so permuted and extrapolated as to be no longer recognizable.

The themes depicted in this exhibition vary a bit, but two areas of inquiry predominate. In the first, Yoshida renders dusty and battered settings that have mysterious organic elements cast across horizontal expanses. These landscapes are neither linear nor painterly; instead, they appear as drained, embalmed, abstracted, and catalogued memories of place and time. Yoshida’s scumbled and stippled surfaces are surprisingly somnolent and slow-moving, and his contour driven imagery seems encased in heavy syrup, or seen through gauzy veils. Everything in these pictures politely lines up parallel to the picture plane, separated by short intervals of space. This shallow staging recurs in Yoshida’s second group of works, which assemble odd and inchoate shapes across brooding and indistinct interiors. These shelves or mantels display their ambiguous wares in a controlled and sequential manner. Yoshida’s shapes appear singly, are subject to intense scrutiny, and fall back into place. Pieces such as Coexistence: Stephead or Coexistence: Protecting, both 1989, seem to grow not from a predetermined consideration, but from the interplay that evolves as the elements develop.

Color and its saturation play crucial roles in uniting Yoshida’s surfaces. The 19 paintings in this show are rich in somber hues of dusky green, chocolate brown, tepid gray, and pale salmon. Yoshida’s palette has narrowed, but the depths plumbed within this restricted range are of a great and calming beauty. The use of color and the measured texture of the brushstrokes bind objects in a kind of close harmony. Yoshida’s iconography may be so personal as to elude the viewer, but his system of pictorial integration is not. In it, one senses the orchestration of a finely tuned vision and sensibility; his ability to harness disparate urges recalls Wassily Kandinsky’s later work. Yoshida captures the stasis within chaos, forcing subtle reconciliations on unwieldy data and achieving a kind of taut equipoise through the ordering process of artistic intervention.

James Yood