The Rob Yamabushi Bio
I guess the visual aesthetic started with cartoons, I could tell the difference. The Japanese cartoons were more honest, people died, prices were paid, I respected that. People in planes that were shot down did not always bail out. The way it was drawn also stood out, the action of G-Force was an early favorite. One of my earliest loves in the seventies with Land of the Lost and Lone Ranger. They are distant memories that have never left, that’s why I love the old school. There is nothing like that sense of innocent wide eyed wonder, that kid joy, that as adults we chase or are boring. That glee that fullness of spirit, is what, as an artist I realize I seek to convey. It all comes from what you choose to input, I realize that now. There is a reason I stay mired in that old school era, a disease of nostalgia an aberration of attitude that keeps me in simpler times. Idealized to be sure but hope has to come from somewhere.
I always liked to draw or doodle. At school I spent a lot of time drawing to kill the boredom. I never thought of a life as an artist. My parents encouraged my brother and I to go to summer art camps, probably just to get us out of their hair for awhile in the summer. We were exposed to developing our own photography, something ancient. Pottery, batik, all kinds of things that was when I learned art was work, we watched some old Georgia O’Keeffe movie, and she is just out there in the desert painting and living, all tan and smiles, and I remember thinking vaguely that would be a cool life. The art as a casual pursuit stuck with me through puberty and into high school. Always I had an eye, I did not know why but I chased anything I was drawn to visually. I started to, by any means necessary, to acquire anything and everything that I thought look cool and surround myself with said images. I slowly turned my bedroom into a installation of pictures and personal paintings. Black light and glow in the dark paint were big for the obvious reasons. A psychedelic shrine was slowly created. The skater turned into a punk, then went goth minus the make up. There was a lot of sadness and turmoil in my home life I was too aware too soon and in hindsight, a total self possessed scary turd. Art was always there for me to zone out on and take away the pain. It became a tool in my survival that has continued to this day. By junior year I had dropped out of high school after taking every A.P. Art class that I could. It was a scary liberating time, I got a taste of independence and adventure.
It was during this pivotal time, that a lot of my life would be decided. I moved back home with some reluctance and difficulty. My friends were succumbing to deadlier and deadlier distractions. It was art that saved me, art that gave me something to hold on too. Something that I was good at, that I could do. For me it was a way out and I got deadly serious about it. A friend had entered into the N.C.School of the Arts, in the visual arts program, and seemed to be flourishing. It was competitive and hard to get in I worked up a portfolio and applied. I was so sketchy the best I could do was get into the summer program. I was told I still had a chance to get one of the last spots if I could prove myself worthy. I still remember that summer, I worked so hard like my life depended on it. I think subconsciously I knew what was at stake. I threw myself into the work, the teachers and the buzz of being around so much creativity was so amazing and new. I felt like this is where I was supposed to be and empowered myself to succeed. I also learned what hard work being true to yourself and making art can be. I was accepted at summer’s end and started full time in the fall. There was nothing like it. The joy of learning, the impassioned full immersion. I would get much better as an artist in a very short amount of focused time. The school split up into three departments Drawing, Design, and Sculpture. Each would be pivotal to my maturation as an artist. I remember doing my first collage in design class, and it sucked, cutting up National Geographics like everyone else. Then I did my second one in drawing class and found my voice, and was encouraged, that might have changed everything. What impresses me now is how truly intensive those two years were. My skills were like a yellow belt when I came in, but I would leave a black belt.
In those years, when the school was better, a good portfolio was an instant ticket in, to any art school in the country. I ended up getting a merit scholarship, and going to the Maryland Institute College of Art. The school was in downtownish Baltimore and in the mid nineties a rough and tumble atmosphere prevailed. The city would prove to be an equal teacher to the college. I continued to sculpt and paint and draw. The soul of the city and the diaspora would effect me for a long time. I was alone for the first long periods of my life, alone I would think and pray and know sorrow. I made many life long friends and the school was great in a lot of ways. There were many people at school that did not belong there and were there to not have to write essays or because their S.A.T.s were so low. This had the effect of watering everything down, add to that all the cliché art school stuff and you had a mixed bag. I was exposed to many different art forms and techniques and continued to hone my skills. The collage was now getting more of my energy and the development of my style was becoming more automatic. I started doing larger scale work, started using the collage to speak in a visual code. Then I started to disseminate that code to the streets via street art.
The art was thematically very dark. Violent images are potent and I was trying to effect change with making the most violent images possible. Francis Bacon was probably the biggest influence on me as a painter, he could move paint like no other. My style was all blood and guts, scared straight. Visually sadistic I swam in bruises and blood, painting scratches and scars. The power of gore and pain to convey the truth of the suffering of man. The attempt to jump start empathy in the viewer. To make art entirely about the unflinching reality of human butchery. I was mixing painting and collage and finding pictures and refining my image source hunting skills. I took every art history class available and submerged myself fully in the art of the non-western world. African Art history was the best and the Native American art was very influential, in the soul I wanted to inform my work both inside and out.
The medicine men the world over have made power objects since the beginning of time. I was starting to overstand that tradition as it applied to me as an artist and more. The problem was one thing, and I had stayed in the mines of despair with the fertile gold of sorrow for so long. I needed a change from the bitter whore of Baltimore. I sought positivity as Y2K loomed. I felt like a rat on a sinking ship, the multitude of ghosts had left their messages, but what now. School was finishing up I prayed for an answer to my future. So much uncertainty,I was really at a loss trying to figure out the right move.
I prayed on it hard. I remember one day after much soul searching I came across a revelation. I would move to Asheville North Carolina and start a clothing company called Yamabushi. I knew making trophies for rich people was not what I wanted. How to get the art to the people who wanted it, who got it, and at a price they could afford. Every T-shirt sold would be a walking billboard. It all seemed so far away then, but I knew deep down I had something important to say. Yamabushi would be about the solution, the meditated response to the problem. Visualize the solution affect the change, help. Make art to empower the powerless. To speak truth to power in a positive visual way that was immediately effective. To take the street art propaganda pieces and the earlier collage designs and combine and refine them into a new visual language that I could commodify and successfully market.
Make art for those that have eyes to see and ears to hear. Asheville marked a real change in my life in many ways. Artistically I found a new fountain of fans that pushed me towards new positivity. The freedom made the work change and get spiritually deeper. The medicine man putting strong medicine next to strong medicine to make it stronger I would attempt in colorful collage. Finding inward magic and the acquisition of spiritual power and their transference to visual art was my focus. Making art for the culture I was experiencing and a part of became a way of life. In Asheville back then, I finally felt like I was where I belonged, where I was supposed to be. No longer on the front lines but way back in the cut, planning strategies. Asheville had as many lessons to teach as Baltimore, but they were very different. Psychic powers and U.F.O.s blended with all the styles from Hip-Hop and Jam bands to Raves and Blue-grass, Asheville was a melting pot of traveling styles in the late nineties.
The fun and friends and delirium influenced the party style of hopefulness and fun that became my artistic style. I started doing large scale collages and began making a series of early designs that would later come to define the “classic yamabushi years”. A series of designs incorporating the new colors and hope that would be the blueprint of the style for years to come. A visually dense style that was trying back then “to give it all to ya!” The kitchen sink thrown in for good measure, all religions point blank right between the eyes. I took the time as an artist to contemplate and tried to share the search for enlightenment with my audience. The source search found fertile fruit in Asheville. I found in thrift stores the remains of many a lost search for enlightenment. The hippie absorb all culture jones was heavily fed by so much cast of ephemera. That random psychedelic zaniness that is inherent in Asheville found it’s way into my collage work where it remains to this very day. I have to be real about it, the place changed the nature of my work as an artist. It was also where I found my place, culturally, as an artist.I found a way to be the voice of a place, have my finger on the pulse of a place.
The story is still being told. In 2000 I was so in love. The times were potent and magical. Things would change as a bad bush would steal an election and seal our fate. The hype of Y2K would only be usurped by the manufactured holocaust of 911. The power grab of the Illuminati would forever change the landscape. The hope would be slowly killed by jingoism and suspicion. People in my life killed themselves the most loved, left. It was a time of transition and darkness. The ripple effect of so much intentional evil, left a scar. A hypocrite institution, a modern day Babylon preaching doublespeak lies, paid itself while destabilizing the world. Thanks a lot assholes.
So the artist has a responsibility to see things for how they really are and then convey those truths in a thoughtful convincing way to the public. Once so important, now just another diversion. Your in the swamp, your scared, you kill Darth Vader, chop up his face and see that he is you. A long period of never waking up in a good mood again begins. The quiet time, a slow winter spent staying warm with fair weather friend fires. The art got dark and weirder, more obtuse, less concerned with touchstones. When I look back a lot of time spent licking wounds. The bluesy soul part of the art. A self involved champagne therapy spiral became the dark art solution. The hermit years began. The long range patrol as art form. Years spent going deep within. The style deepens as the hand becomes more nimble. A period without real influence.
I chased cool chunks of stuff, a border here, a cool rainbow there. Over time I perfected the art of the search. Digging for vinyl or books or whatever a shorthand was formed, I learned what to look for. In the end you are only as deep as your bench. The power is in the punch, the trump card played perfectly. I lived alone and read and read and made art. The rest of life gradually was stripped away to become a new synthesis of being. Hard times make for a hard teacher. I think I closed myself off to the counterfeit and fake and slowly grew bitter. The art became more idealized or rueful and sardonic. It was like the combination of eras dark with light trying to filter through. Lessons were learned at great cost, but what are you gonna do? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and all that there. Sacrifice and work became the new norm as everything got faster. Image creation took less time as I gave it more time. Years later I still sit alone waiting for the throne. Yamabushi almost died a few times back then.It was a turbulent time double-crossed by fate. Through the fires a new format was forged.New purpose was breathed into old lungs.The language comes quicker now. It is time to do something with it.