Earlier this year we visited the studio of Sandra Yagi in San Francisco’s SOMA area. Her studio is in an industrial building in the shadow of the Bay Bridge, but it has great light – very important for an artist whose work is rooted in life drawing. While Sandy’s work often has a surreal feel to it, an exploration of her studio reveals the references that inform that work. She is a diligent student of nature. There are books on botany and anatomy. There are taxidermy forms. There is a skeleton named Frederick.
Sandy’s life as an artist was a dream deferred. While she was always interested in making art, that was not an education that her father, ever practical, was going to pay for. Instead, she started out with a business degree and a career in finance. After Bank of America relocated her here to San Francisco from Denver, she began seriously studying and making art on the side. With her business/finance background, she developed a formal plan to transition to art. She and her partner settled into a very frugal lifestyle, saving towards the goal of being able to support themselves with Sandy pursuing art. There was an actual business plan. They worked with the most conservative assumption that there would be no revenue from art initially. And, they set a standard of living for themselves that allowed for that. This gave Sandy the time she needed to find her voice as an artist.
And, it is a fascinating voice, indeed. Sandy is intensely interested in how things work. And, at the same time, she is very interested in how different societies at different times have tried to unravel those mysteries. Much of her work explores both the modern world’s scientific discoveries and the ancient world’s mythology looking for similarities and disconnects.
In one series of work, she specifically explores myth and symbolism. She scientifically illustrates horses with detailed anatomy in one painting that is based on the myth of the Mares of Diomedes – horses with an unnatural appetite for human flesh. The story resonates in the modern world as parable of nature punishing man. She paints skulls with reptiles crawling around in the cranial cavity. The paintings are not just a little disturbing. And, it is not an accident that one of these paintings is in the collection of Axl Rose. But the symbolism is again very modern. It is a direct reference to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is a representation of man’s reptilian brain taking over. Consumption of the bird in the painting symbolizes consumption of freedom or the soul.
In a more recent series of paintings, Sandy has focused specifically on the skeletal forms. She shows skeletons having sex – an amusing reference to Petit Mort. She illustrates Madonna and Child, where the child is a skeleton of conjoined fetal twins – the opposite of perfection. And, there is a whole series of dancing skeletal conjoined twins, appealing to her desire to intensely study how the body works, but in a slightly twisted and highly amusing way.
Recently, Sandy produced a series of sixteen small works for an exhibition at ARC Gallery in San Francisco, “FourSquared”, that I had the honor of co-curating. The concept of the exhibition was to showcase sixteen artists in sixteen articulated grids, effectively creating sixteen small separate exhibitions. All of the works were small and affordable. Sandy embraced the concept enthusiastically and characteristically. She used the exhibition as an opportunity to embark on yet another series of works exploring the world both scientifically and surrealistically. The question she asked was “What if evolution took a different path?”. With obsessive detail, she imagined hybrid creatures: Mandrill Demons, Feathertail Possums, and PigeonRats. In meticulous rendered small oil paintings, she not only imagined these creatures, she also created entire worlds for them to inhabit. SpiderMonkey now graces my personal collection.
Everyone has a wonderful opportunity to visit Sandy in her studio this weekend as San Francisco Open Studios moves to SOMA for Weekend Two (October 15-17). Her studio is in the South Beach Artists Studios at 2nd & Bryant Streets. And, if you miss her this weekend, she will be featured in a solo exhibition at the Bert Green Fine Art Gallery in Los Angeles in January 2011. You can also arrange to see Sandra Yagi’s studio by appointment.