Koho Yamamoto: 101 Springs to Open at Leonovich Gallery on Artist’s 101st Birthday




Koho Yamamoto, Untitled, 1979, ink and watercolor, 35 ½ x 25 in.

Koho Yamamoto: 101 Springs, a solo exhibition of sumi-e paintings by Japanese American artist Koho Yamamoto, will be on view at the Leonovich Gallery from April 15-May 14, 2023. Curated by Jaya Duvvuri, Yamamoto’s long-time associate and former student, the exhibition will include seventeen works spanning fifty years of Yamamoto’s artistic practice and will open on the artist’s 101st birthday.

Yamamoto uses traditional Japanese materials such as sumi ink, brushes, and rice paper to make abstract paintings. The work begins from a void and nothingness, and then emerges from the spirit of the moment through Yamamoto’s gestures of pure expression. She works with the speed of execution, each painting is its own unique event, and is not reworked. The balance of dark, medium, and light tones, which in Japanese is referred to as “Notan”, is a guiding principle, and becomes her characteristic of a lively work of art. Often Yamamoto’s mantra is “Keep your mind clear. To create something fresh and direct, you must work from nothingness.”

Yamamoto’s themes run the gamut from the pure abstraction of circular shapes and slashes of line to dark landscapes from her imagination or memory, sometimes evoking a moon or a sky in nature. Her work is a deeply internal and intimate pursuit of pure abstract expression, through gesture, lines, dots, and circular shapes, seeking to overcome personal hardships while innovating this medium.

Koho Yamamoto. Photo: Robert Banat

About Koho Yamamoto: 
Born in Alviso, California in 1922, Koho Yamamoto lives in New York. Yamamoto spent her early elementary school years in Japan, and returned permanently to live in the United States at age nine in 1931. Her father was a calligrapher; her mother died when she was just four. During the Second World War, Yamamoto was forcibly incarcerated with her father and siblings in two of the prison camps established by the American government for residents of Japanese ancestry living on the west coast of the United States.

In 1942 at the Topaz Internment Camp in Utah, Yamamoto studied with the renowned artist Chiura Obata. In recognition of her skill and artistry in sumi-e, Professor Obata conferred upon Yamamoto the name ‘Koho’, which is a Japanese tradition of denoting artistic lineage from masters to their outstanding pupils. Obata’s name translates to ‘A Thousand Harbors’ and Koho translates as ‘Red Harbor’.

In her early years, Yamamoto painted traditional sumi-e flora subjects such as bamboo, plum blossom, and pine trees as well as Japanese calligraphy, and landscapes from observation recording the surroundings of the camps. Though she is a dedicated teacher of traditional sumi-e subjects and has taught for over 50 years, her own work stems from the ideas and thoughts developed in Postwar Abstract Expressionism in New York, where she has lived since 1945.

Yamamoto studied oil painting at the Arts Students League in New York (1946-53) and was introduced to Cubism, life and observational painting, and abstraction. The latter has been the basis of her work since the late 1950s until the present day. Yamamoto has chosen to paint with sumi ink and rice paper, using calligraphic strokes, as she prefers to use the materials and vocabulary closest to her Japanese heritage.

Yamamoto founded the Koho School of Sumi-e on MacDougal Street in New York. From 1974-2010, she taught traditional Japanese painting to generations of interested artists. Yamamoto’s  last major exhibition was in 2021 at the Noguchi Museum in New York. Her works are in the permanent collection of the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University in Stanford, California and at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. .

Koho Yamamoto: 101 Springs will be on view from April 15 to May 14, 2023 at Leonovich Gallery, 706 Avenue of the Americas, NYC. An Opening Reception will be held on April 14th from 6-8pm.