Yasuyuki Ito: The Miraculous Inner Vision of a Sight-Impaired Painter

Color 8, Paintings, 24 x 29

In 2003, Japanese artist Yasuyuki Ito experienced what he describes as a “serious deterioration of my eyesight” due to a loss of central vision.
“Since then the process of creation has been more challenging,” he says, “but I continue to depict my interior world and my perception of the outer world, using a variety of creative techniques.”
 “I always work with oil paint, partly because I appreciate its solidity, which  fits the image I have in mind,” Ito explains, and the power of his compositions, with their strong linear rhythms enclosing vibrantly colorful forms, makes that statement seem self-explanatory. Apparently calling upon  a combination of sight-memory and intuition, Ito accomplishes the seemingly impossible task of creating paintings possessed of a clarity which almost enables one able to regard his severe visual handicap as no more daunting then the assumed astigmatism to which centuries of art historians have, rightly or wrongly, attributed the unusual elongation of El Greco’s figures. But in the case of any serious artist, it is the work itself which counts above all else, including the handicaps he or she must overcome to create it, and Ito’s paintings can certainly be judged on their own merits, which are more than considerable.
In the linearity of his compositions, there is just as much evidence of the Asian tradition as we see in the best Japanese brush painting and woodblock print masters of the past. Indeed, the forms of Ito’s oil on canvas “Color 8,” recall the energy of Hokusai’s famous woodblock print “The Wave.” Ito’s painting, however, is considerably more abstract, even while its regular  patterns of surging forms suggest water flowing in a stream between two shores, one rocky, the other verdant green.
Perhaps owing to his fervent wish to combine his interior world with his perception of outer reality, Ito occupies the fertile realm between representation and abstraction more convincingly than most other contemporary artists, resulting in compositions  possessed of an emblematic power that transforms natural shapes into highly personal symbols.
In “Color 7," for example, it appears as though the artist has plumbed the desert for forms such as rocks and cacti, then rearranged them to conjure a counter-reality in which  boulders clog the sky like massive clouds above a totemic plant form in a landscape with its own unique natural laws. Here, burnished, arid ochers and rich green and blue hues present a succulent counterpoint. By contrast, a strong central plant form is set like a blue claw against a background of intricate massed circles simultaneously suggesting pebbles and bubbles.
Among American artists, for the simple, ruddy strength of his compositions, as well as for his manner of transforming nature into a personal language, Ito seems most akin to Marsden Hartley. Ito, however, embraces a far greater range of subject matter than that pioneering homegrown nature painter, from a stylized depiction of windblown palm
trees on adjoining hills, bracketing a body of stylized waves and a huge setting (or rising) sun, to a silhouette of a bird filled with blue sky and clouds as surreal as anything by Magritte, to visionary images of floating balloons containing fragments of landscape, to compositions in which the outer edges of large, vibrant floral forms are set dramatically against dark backgrounds, to a rainbow composed of flowing ribbons of light.
    In all of these paintings Yasuyuki Ito teaches the sighted new ways of seeing.
–– Peter Wylie

Yasuyuki Ito, Agora Gallery, March 6–27, 2012. Reception: Thurs. March 8, 6–8


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