Introducing Artist No. 73 Samyak Yamauchi

Samyak Yamauchi is one of the most interesting artists I’ve ever met, or maybe it’s just because I’ve gotten to know her personally.  Read her blog at and you will have the privilege of seeing directly into her psyche, and learn just what she is thinking and visualizing at any given moment.  And you can immediately see the expression of those thoughts in her paintings. As we all show only part of who we are to the rest of the world, I’m fascinated to know more.  You can learn more too, by visiting her in her studio during this fall’s Portland Open Studios tour.

She describes herself as “Third generation Japanese-American – mostly self-taught painter – native Portlander – partner, parent, grandparent – tree-hugger – color lover – hair enthusiast – retired teacher – friendly introvert – Superpower: big inspiration in a small frame.”

Her art background:  “I am pretty much self-taught.  I’ve always made art, but I was a ‘closet’ artist until 2001 when I started making and showing glass mosaics. Through many years of making mosaics, I learned a lot about color, composition, and ‘seeing’ imagery.”

While she is self-taught, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been learning.  She has taken figure drawing classes through PCC and from artist Phil Sylvester, who helped her get out her head and draw the way she sees things.  Serena Barton taught her to use her hands and paper towels; Jesse Reno taught her about letting things morph and change. Most recently she took a class from Bill Park who taught her to embrace drips!  “Mostly I have learned to paint by going into my studio almost every day and moving paint around and paying close attention to what the painting has to say and how it feels to paint.”

Her actual process has changed very little over time. The biggest change is her color palette. “When I started I painted dark abstracts. Then I began using mainly primary and very bright colors. My paintings got more and more colorful and bright until suddenly last winter I started using mostly black, grey and pale blue. I think I was feeling sort of overwhelmed by things going on in the world, and the change in my color palette was calming. Getting ready for a recent show at the P 5, I knew I need to have lighter backgrounds to show off the paintings on those dark walls, so I did a series with white backgrounds, bold black lines and little pops of color.  Now, I’m using subtle color and lighter backgrounds. My challenge is to figure out how to get adequate contrast in value with such subtle colors because I really like contrast, so I’m interested in incorporating black lines in interesting ways.”  She’s always growing.  I love that.

She tells me she has had many ‘pivotal’ experiences, but she tells us about three.:

“1. Being featured on Oregon Art Beat gave me more confidence in calling myself an “artist”. At the time I was facilitating painting workshops, and sharing my painting process with others. The Art Beat episode reached a lot of people who wouldn’t have seen my art otherwise. Because so many people started signing up for my workshops, I met lots of really lovely people, so that really opened my world up a lot.

“2. Another really life changing event was the day I met Portland artist, Fred Swan. Fred is one of the most gracious, creative, authentic people I’ve ever known. Meeting Fred, and coming into his orbit has brought me a beautiful sense of grace and gratitude. And

“3. The last experience was not really an art experience, but a recent spiritual retreat from which I returned, surprisingly, without a desire to call myself “artist” anymore. I believe that as I let this settle in, it will probably be the most important experience of my life.”

I asked her what the best piece of advice She’s ever been given was.  She had two: First: “If something in your painting isn’t moving the piece forward, get rid of it.” – Jesse Reno   Second. “Change direction.” – A voice in a dream.

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