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Ikuyo YAMADA: Excuse
Written by Tomohiro MASUDA   
Published: May 21 2009

fig. 1  Marie-Gabrielle Capet "Self-portrait" (1783); oil on canvas, 77.5 x 59.5 cm, owned by The National Museum of Western Art. Courtesy of The National Museum of Western Art.

     The drawing entitled “Self-portrait” [fig. 1] made by Marie-Gabrielle Capet is a well illustrated and graceful image of the Rococo era (the end of the 18th century) when women were playing increasingly important roles outside the home. In this painting, Capet seems to look down at the viewers, keeping her chin up a little. She wears a fascinatingly elegant blue dress made of satin, which contrasts with her porcelain-white skin. Although her clothes look unsuitable to wear while drawing pictures, but that is what she is doing since she is holding a chalk holder for delicate drawing and there is something drawn faintly on the canvas in the picture. Her confident facial expression and gaily coloured dress seem to show us two aspects of her; an accomplished painter and a beautiful woman.

     I am not sure that Capet was such a beautiful woman as she appears in this self-portrait. I do not have detailed knowledge of Capet but in any case it does not matter if there was actually a difference between the two Capets, the one drawn in this work and the other living in the real world. For example, another female painter of the same period, Elisabeth-Louise Vigee-Lebrun, also drew self-portraits in which she depicted herself as a young and beautiful woman just as Capet does. In her self-portraits, Lebrun wears glamorous dresses, which again, is like Capet. However, it is believed that Lebrun embarked on drawing self-portraits in her middle 30s. Thus, it can be said that she depicted herself in idealized form in her self-portraits.

     We usually look on self-portraits as composite sketches of the painters who drew them. In other words, we consider that “self-portrait = painter (or reflection of a painter’s attitude of mind)”. Nonetheless, self-portraits do not always give accurate images of the painters themselves, as is clear from my description of the self-portraits mentioned above. It can be said that self-portraits express the self-image of the painters who hope to be seen as the persons that appear in their self-portraits. Considering that such self-consciousness is formed by society, I suppose Capet and Lebrun rendered ideal images of themselves as desired by society. I apologize for this lengthy preamble, but this way of looking at self-portraits may give us a clue to finding what Ikuyo Yamada aims to convey through her works.

from Ikuyo Yamada's solo exhibition "Excuse" at Takahashi Collection. Courtesy of Takahashi Collection, copy right(c) Ikuyo YAMADA, courtesy of Takahashi Collection

from Ikuyo Yamada's solo exhibition "Excuse" at Takahashi Collection. Courtesy of Takahashi Collection, copy right(c) Ikuyo YAMADA, courtesy of Takahashi Collection

     Entering the exhibition site of the Takahashi Collection, where Ikuyo Yamada’s solo exhibition was held, we saw there were crumpled tracing papers on the floor. Looking at them carefully, we found that many of these papers had faces drawn on them or pictures of slightly built women who were depicted using girlish comic-like brush strokes. Usually, it seems that the more time and energy artists put into creating their works, the stronger the emotional attachment they have for those works. Nevertheless, in this exhibition hall, tracing papers were strewn over the floor carelessly. Also, other works were pasted on the wall randomly using masking tape. Pictures were fluttering silently in the air current from the air-conditioning equipment, which was emitting a low sound.

     Although these works were not entitled “self-portraits”, they seem to reflect the mental pictures of the artists, in that the same figuration was depicted in the works repeatedly, reminiscent of the works of DEKI Yayoi or the sensitive girls who are often depicted in comics for girls. We find modern stereotypes of female artists in Yamada’s works - sensitive, not good at communicating with others, not very interested in social trends, drawing pictures of their own choice while staying at home, and “loving themselves” like Yayoi Kusama.

     Makoto Aida wrote about Yamada on a board which was displayed in the exhibition hall. He said that she is an “essentially broken artist” who is not good at communicating with others. Yamada’s works make me feel that her personality and her drawings have a lot in common. However, it seems to me that we overlook some important points by overlapping Ikuyo Yamada herself with her works, just as we lose sight of Capet’s drawings themselves or Capet herself by considering both at the same time.

     Here, I would like to focus on materials, the tracing papers, which are used in Yamada’s works. Tracing papers are transparent. By drawing pictures on tracing papers, Yamada represents to viewers that the images in her works are temporary. Also, she reduces the transparency level of tracing papers by drawing on them. In other words, the reverse side of the papers is hidden by the images drawn on them. Through such processes, Yamada makes one of the modern stereotypes of female artists appear on the tracing papers. It seems to me that she manages to beguile viewers by camouflaging herself cleverly. Simply stated, she seems to present her image to viewers by dissembling, saying “I am a weird girl, making modern art into a job”, and then she hides herself behind this image.

     In her statement which was shown in the exhibition hall, Yamada said the following:

“Why did I come to stay in my shell? In the simplest terms, the reason is that I did not want to be seen by others. Thus, I do not want my drawings to be looked at by someone. Nonetheless, if viewers find something in my creations, it means that these works serve as artworks. I am happy about that. So, if someone gives me his/her impression of my works, I would say ‘Thank you very much for looking at my works. Don’t look at me! If you turn your gaze on me, I will shoot you with an air gun!’”

     As mentioned above, when she draws her pictures, she does not aim to draw attention to herself. In other words, it seems that the fragile figures or motifs which appear on the tracing papers used in Yamada’s works are like the “victims” of the viewers who are staring at her drawings. Also, the figures in the shape of small faces which she draws repeatedly in her works seem to me to represent her intent. Although the self-portraits of Capet indicate ideal images of women which were desired by Capet herself and society, Yamada’s works seem to avoid viewers’ curious stares and intentionally make them turn their gaze to the stereotypical image of the female artist.

     I am sure that my guess is wrong and misses the whole point. Probably, looking closely at the reverse side of the tracing papers, I find my ideal image of Ikuyo Yamada on the wall behind these papers where nothing is drawn. Such a way of looking at her works seems to be similar to that of looking on her image and herself as the same things. Therefore, I will be shot by her with an air gun, while viewing a false image which appears behind the tracing papers without looking at the image which is depicted on the front of them. Nevertheless, I would like to suggest that her drawings have more power to attract viewers than many other paintings that shout “Look at me!” Yamada’s works seem to say, broadly, “Don’t look at me!” That is why we, the viewers, can hold various images of her drawings in our minds, such as a projected image or a strengthened image of them. Although Makoto Aida mentioned that there are no “strategic characteristics” in her creations, I would like to stress that allowing viewers to have various images of her works is exactly her “strategy”.
(Translated by Nozomi Nakayama)

Related Exhibition

"Ikuyo Yamada: Excuse"
10/Jan/2009 - 07/Feb/2009
Venue: Takahashi Collection

Last Updated on July 05 2010

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