A statement →
I like patterns. Not because I want you to notice the same colours and lines over and over again. Not at all. Every time you look at one of my pictures I want you to see something different in it. For me using patterns is a way of making pictures that are constantly changing. Patterns are a way of achieving endlessness. One time you focus on this. The next time you focus on that.
People say that because I come from Japan there is something Eastern about these ambitions. It’s true that I’ve been influenced by various kinds of repetitive Eastern decoration. But the shadows made by the struts intersecting on a concrete ceiling have as much impact on me as the islamic tiles of the Taj Mahal. All of our world is made out of patterns, and not just the pretty bits.

Yumi Katayama

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Reconstruction Nonsense World →

At first sight, Yumi Katayama’s art has a jumpiness to it. If you see live paintings by her, each one seems to have a different mood or focus. It’s easy to think that five different artists have been involved in their production. But no. It’s all Yumi Katayama, orchestrating her delicate and multi-faceted pictorial dramas like a composer writing for different instruments in the orchestra.

The jumpiness is never the result of indecision or flightiness. Rather, it is proof of a different kind of consistency. Not the Cézanne kind, where an artist keeps ascending along the same pictorial line.
That’s been done and it’s not for her. Her method involves beginning the journey from a mix of different starting points – then hanging on for dear life while the bucking bronco of art gallops o on its new circuit.

Over here, she’s floaty and ethereal, conjuring up abstracted fogs that seem to owe everything to the landscape (Bernard’s Painting; Yesterday’s Red; If There Were Stars). Over there, she’s hard-edged and dark, quoting shapes and moods that could have been discovered on the cover of a science-fiction paperback (Fear; Pigeon Blood; Narcissus). Then, abruptly, the angst drains away, and we’re in a world of warm, suggestive geometry where post-constructivist shapes grow uncharacteristically emotional (Absence; Green Emperor; Tanzanite). One show. Many moods. That’s how it is with Yumi Katayama.

What, then, are the starting points? Everything begins as a sight, a detail, something she has noticed, something that demands her attention. Her method is to walk and look, drive and look, fly and look, always to be ready for the unexpected stop sign: the moment that pauses her and surprises her. They can be big visual moments. An effect of the weather. A motion of the skies. But more often they are tiny things, fragments of beautiful reality which she wants to liberate from bigger surroundings. Sometimes it’s the detail of a painting that enchants her. Or a small moment in a piece of architecture: a meeting of materials, a change of angles. Her way of finding new worlds always involves looking with fresh eyes at the old world.

Sudden Power, for instance, is an ecstatic response to something she saw on the train from London to Derby. Looming up in a window was the sudden sight of a sprawling power station glowing with eerie whiteness against a grey and rainy sky. She took a photo. It was snatched and shaky. But it was enough to start a journey.

Because she was born in Japan in 1955, issues of translation also loom up. Her adventurous sense of colour was delivered to her in the wasabi and the natto. It’s a palette that is strikingly non-western: a taste for combinations sourced from a different rainbow. Her taste in shapes and balances is equally off-centre.
In successive pictures she can veer from hard shapes that dominate the centre to free-form expanses that float like clouds. The results have previously been described as ‘Japanese surrealism’. Sometimes, she does, indeed, appear to be whispering in the pictorial language of the 1930s. A Tanguy-like inflection. A hint of Masson. But nothing she produces started out in dreamland or in the deepest recesses of the psyche.
Her starting point is always the world before us.

That said, it does get viewed from unusual angles. Angles that make no sense. Until they are reconstructed.

Waldemar Januszczak

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Yumi Katayama - Painter of Chaos →
You will notice that her paintings refuse to settle down into a system. A moment of extreme simplicity will be followed by a complex cluster of busy shapes. You will see that her paintings pop in an out of the third dimension as casually, it seems, as a window in the wind opens and closes. Some paintings are absolutely flat, others appear to be set far back from the picture surface, in deep space. Some paintings feel like still-lives, others like landscapes. But there is nothing random about these shifts and jumps. They are inevitable.

I am going to write about science to begin with because Yumi Katayama’s work appears, in some interesting senses, absolutely up-to-date in its scientific beliefs, and because science is increasing in importance as a guide to art. This is not an entirely new role for science. Cézanne said he was looking for the cones, spheres and cubes from which nature was built, and if you think about it, this is a very queer ambition for an artist to have. It sounds like a scientist’s ambition. Searching for cones and squares in nature is something a geologist might do, or a physicist.

Since then, there have been many attempts in modern art to find some underlying conceptual order to the surface chaos of the world. The cubists were looking for the optical totality of everything they saw. Mondrian went further, and reduced the appearance of things to its simplest geometry. All these artists brought an air of scientific inquiry to their work.

Chaos Theory, modern science’s most significant theoretical development, argues against Cézanne, the Cubists, or Mondrian. Chaos Theory explains the primary systems of the world not according to their underlying order but their underlying disorder. Chaos Theory is the scientific understanding of the haphazard. And Yumi Katayama’s work is a tribute to this same newly accepted universal force – not to calm but to collision, not to unifying structures but to isolated and telling visual moments.

In her latest work, Katayama has been very specific about the sites at which she discovered her moments of optical interest. She has entitled and listed them with the sort of precision that a botanist might display when arranging his specimens. In a sense these are what her paintings are: specimens of reality. Each one represents, a different moment of optical interest which she has saved from extinction.

Her starting point is usually something she has glimpsed, or passed. These are not moments of high optical drama, or flamboyant details, but quiet moments: the shape of a cornice, the interface between a wall and its surrounding, the way the light falls on the corners of a room, the relationship between a tower and the sky, an architrave’s shadow, a window’s recess. Once identified, such a moment is sieved for the pictorial laws it exemplifies, and calmly preserved. The painter takes over from the theoretician.

But the quietude of the chosen moment is clung onto very fiercely. In this exhibition Yumi Katayama is ensuring the survival of the unfittest.

Waldemar Januszczak

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Humble Beauty →
The corner of a room, an outline of a wall, the junction between a pane of glass and its wooden surround – Yumi Katayama makes images of what some of us would call areas of great unimportance. She does not find them unimportant. She discovers something worth celebrating in these plain Janes of appearance, these unassuming configurations of texture and shape.

The question is: what has she discovered? The quick answer, of course, is: beauty. A long answer would take us stumbling across a dense philosophical terrain littered with assumptions about the poetry of stasis and other complications. But who wants to go there? Not me. Not Yumi.

I want to go to Rome where Borromini, the greatest architect of the Baroque age, found everything he was looking for in two places. The first was in the intricate, multi-valent, bending and twisting plan he designed for the church of San Carlo. The second was in a minor corner in the small courtyard of that tiny church where a grey pilaster meets a white wall. This meeting of grey and white is all that happens. But it says so much.

It is not abstraction. Any more than the pictures of Yumi Katayama are abstractions.

Waldemar Januszczak

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Reproduction and authenticity →
New Work by Yumi Katayama
‘No man ever steps in the same river twice.’ – Heraclitus

There is no right or wrong way to be an artist. No one has ever written a rule book saying: this is how you have to do it. Every artist must create their own path, with their own rules, their own direction.
In most cases, following this path involves the enactment of small incremental changes, where one thing leads to another, and then another. But Yumi Katayama does not work that way. She works in clusters. Bodies of work. Suites. New things appear suddenly in her oeuvre with an impact that can feel explosive. First she does it this way. Then she does it that way. Every Yumi Katayama show appears to be following a new set of rules.

But this fizzy sense of change – the sense of difference – is actually an illusion. Underlying all the seemingly dramatic leaps and dog-legs is a consistent respect for the pleasures of looking. All her art has, as its fundamental urge – its guiding principle – a need to notice optical coincidences and constellations found and enjoyed in the world around us. Things she has spotted. Sights she has witnessed. They can be minute: the impact of an edge; the rhythm of a surface; the way one object lies next to another. Most of us walk past these tiny everyday details, and do not see them. Katayama picks them out. She treasures them and enlarges them. In her art, tiny patterns and modest rhythms become something bigger, something prouder. The micro becomes the macro; the chorus takes centre stage. We are witnessing a series of beautiful pictorial ennoblements.

The present collection is her most flamboyant to date. There’s an overall sense here of baroque lusciousness: of many shapes and textures competing for our attention. Where previously her art has appeared minimal and even austere, here it seems particularly ornate and plush. Rolex even has a plush name; somewhere within this gorgeous busyness you can, perhaps, imagine that you sense an atmosphere of expense. However, Concrete does not have a plush name; prompted by the curt and hard title we are encouraged to recognise a greyer and less glamorous expanse, with less frilly origins.

All these sights can feel elusively familiar: you might imagine you recognise them. Some will think that Presentation reminds them of distant galaxies, filled with tumbling stars and planets; gorgeous cascades of cosmic interaction dancing across an echoing night sky. Others will believe they are looking down at a busy jewellery box filled with precious treasures; or a collector’s cabinet overflowing with samples. The bounteous presence of Reproduction 1, and of its lovely sister painting, Reproduction 2, seems to describe something that is simultaneously huge and tiny. Are we looking out across a lush meadow of flowers? Or are we looking down onto a lovely bouquet in a vase?

Of course, we are not actually looking in any of those directions. There is no up or down here, no big or small, no landscape or still life, no field, no bouquet. This is not an art that has ever been tasked with exploring the sights themselves. Instead, it creates anew from the same patterns: the same interstitials. In Katayama’s busy, encoded collages, planets and atoms swap each other’s rhythms and borrow each other’s scales. The tiny pretends to be huge. The see-through dresses up as the solid. Art toys with visibility’s rules.

There is something else to note: a hardcore modern understanding. This is also art that addresses us on the value of appearance. In Yumi Katayama’s gorgeous painterly democracy the real and the ersatz share the same patterns and deliver the same pleasures. Her ornate collection of coincidences and constellations is prompting us to look more thoughtfully at what is real and what is reproduced. Because it wants us to conclude that the differences don’t matter.

Waldemar Januszczak

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Yumi Katayama's Japanese Odyssey →
Although she was born in Tokyo, Yumi Katayama has lived most of her life away from Japan. For much of the time she was in London. But she has also travelled extensively, to India, Peru, Easter Island. Today, she has made Languedoc her home as well, and every morning, if she can, she goes walking through the landscape around her village of St Genies de Fontedit, enjoying the dry and luminous colours of the garrigue, looking, absorbing, and noting the changes.

Because so much of her life has been spent away from Tokyo, it might be assumed that Yumi Katayama has lost touch with most of her Japaneseness: that the foreign influences crowding in on her imagination would have overwhelmed what was originally there. But that is not how nationality works. It is not a coat of paint that can easily be changed: a look or a style. Nationality is a set of inviolate interior laws that will always act on you, wherever you are. It’s a pathway through the senses that cannot be removed. Just as when you fly over a field of corn you can still discern the shadows of the prehistoric village that was originally there, so Japaneseness will always be buried within Yumi Katayama.

However, by ‘Japaneseness’ I do not mean anything twee or obvious. We are not talking here about geishas or cherry blossom or kimonos. Nothing survives of the touristic Japan in Katayama’s art. Her Japaneseness can be discerned on a deeper level. In a preference for certain types of colour. A different relationship to symmetry. A taste for shapes that strike me, a gaijin, or foreigner, as unusual and unexpected. There is an elegance here, definitely, but it is not a predictable elegance. Above all, her art has an un-fixed quality to it, a fluidity, a restlessness, a sense of shifting focus, which, paradoxically, is perhaps the most Japanese thing about it.

Every room in this display will feel a little different from the one before. As you wander around the show, you may find yourself wondering if Yumi Katayama is one artist or ten. One moment she is working with enamels on aluminium. The next moment she is painting soft geometries on canvas or making woodblock prints or even taking photographs. Over here, she seems fully abstract. Over there, she appears mildly figurative. Some of her art feels spectacularly empty, as if there is barely anything there: a shape, a colour. The next picture, however, may look packed. Overflowing. Squirming with energy.

How should we understand this sense of constant change? Why is it so quintessentially Japanese? I am going to try to grasp it here by remembering, for a moment, the house in which Yumi Katayama was born. It was a traditional Japanese house. And like all the ones around it, it was made of wood. Japanese houses were wooden because of the earthquakes that constantly threaten Japan. Wooden houses are easy to rebuild. When they fall over they do not kill you. Inside such a house, the paper screens that separate one room from another have a meaningful impermanence too. In an overcrowded country, a family can share the same space and yet be separated. A bedroom can be folded away easily to become a living room. Thus every traditional Japanese house can be understood as an embodiment of the acceptance of change.

This ancient awareness of impermanence is one of the inviolate inner laws of the Tokyo identity. The Japanese even have a special word to describe this state of constant change that has shaped their world view. They call it the ukiyo, which translates as: ‘the floating world’. In the 19th century, the celebrated Japanese woodblock prints which had such a powerful influence on the Impressionists were actually known as ukiyo-e, or ‘pictures of the floating world’. And that is what you will encounter at this show. Constant change. Fluid visions. Moments. Fragments. Shadows. Glimpses. Encapsulations. A creativity without borders.

There is something else. At one point in this odyssey you will encounter some of the unexpected jewellery that Yumi Katayama makes out of pure gold, by hand, in the traditional fashion. She calls it Yumi’s Gold. Another way to understand her, is to think of her, perhaps, as a gem-collector. Someone who goes to all these places and sifts through all the sights that confront her, looking for sudden fragments of preciousness that are worth saving. Magic moments. Surprising harmonies. Tiny glimpses. These visual gems are all around us in the ukiyo. They are everywhere in our world. But you have to know how to look for them. And you have to be flexible.

Waldemar Januszczak

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