About Yanagi

Yanagi is an artist who creates meditative, abstract paintings inspired by light, colour and natural forms.
His unique watercolours are reflections of an unhurried life and are greatly admired for the rich, translucent qualities.

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In the past few decades, Yanagi’s work has become widely appreciated by both corporate and private art collectors.
(b.1959, minneapolis)

The name “Yanagi” came to me in a dream, over thirty years ago, that I should take that name. It means willow tree (among other things) in Japanese. Ive always felt a great affinity with Zen philosophy and meditation and Ive always painted as Yanagi.

I like to savour the little moments that might easily go unnoticed. I can spend ages gazing at the vastness of space or the tiniest signs of life at my feet. Im always seeking that elusive spark that ignites the passion there is in just being alive. I soak up light, colour, movement all the beauty nature offers us. I spend a lot of time just observing the natural world, then I work mostly from memory. Occasionally Ill bring back stones from the beach, leaves, the bark of trees. Some things wont fit in my pocket, like a sunset or the caves of Nerja and so Ill take a photo.

I have been painting exclusively in watercolour for more than twenty years, but in a rather unorthodox way. Working with watercolour is challenging, there is a real immediacy about it you have to be able to match that pace and go with it. Through years of experience Ive come to understand the interplay of water, paper and colour. I use their distinct qualities to create large-scale paintings, which you rarely see in watercolours. My fascination with the medium centres more on colour. I use the water to carry the colour rather than dilute it. I work by building up layer upon layer of colour, wash after wash, until Ive created a richness I can taste. Despite the depth this process achieves, a translucent quality remains.

Because the work is abstract some people want me to tell them what inspired it, but usually I prefer not to limit a painting in that way. It can literally be all things to all people. Many have said they feel they could either be looking at some thing through a telescope or a microscope and thats true because the Universe really is like that, the microcosm reflects the macrocosm and vice versa. The main thing people comment on is the sense of peace and serenity the work inspires in them.

Many people have been of great influence in my life and not all of them were artists. In the beginning when I was trying to find a voice and a technique to express it, I spent time exploring all sorts of artists work, there are too many to name them all, but the Impressionists, Tobey, Chagall, Miro and Kandinsky all had an impact. Im in awe of superior techniques in any field, art, architecture, gardening, writing, cooking, anyone whose soul shines through their work and cares enough to question and reflect on the bigger picture.

Knowing when to stop is perhaps the most important thing, especially as Im pushing the boundaries of what watercolour can do. Its a process. Theres a period of intense work, then I have to be patient and walk away. Later, I return to it with fresh eyes and decide whether to carry on or frame it. It’s not a precise science, it’s more of an instinct.

For the past ten years, because of the support Ive had from people who collect my work, Ive been fortunate enough to be able to concentrate entirely on painting. That is a real luxury and I have been able to produce a very large body of work. For me painting is like breathing, stopping is not an option.

I love the impact of seeing a large body of work hanging together in a show. Im happy when someone really gets it and takes it away. Very often I will visit someone later and see they have a painting of mine that I’d forgotten all about and its like seeing an old friend. Naturally I have favourites, but Im happy for them just to exist wherever they may be.

I grew up in Minneapolis, an urban environment with a great wealth of both public and private art collections. It was a very stimulating place to be but fortunately I got to spend a lot of time in the wilderness away from the city at a cabin built by my father. This dual existence has been extremely important to me throughout my life.