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The Uniter, Issue 17, February 01, 2007

Semai shows Initiative

By Kenton Smith

It's a question Natsuko Yoshino has heard countless times before.

"People are always asking, 'What's this one about?'" Yoshino says in reference to her fantastical mixed media drawings, presently on show at Semai Gallery. The show, titled Initiative, may not be an interactive exhibition, but certainly appreciation of Yoshino's work will not be made passively.

Yoshino says that she has no preconceived notions when beginning a new drawing. She simply starts, and is often able to let the process of automatic drawing take over, tapping directly into the subconscious. "I'm very comfortable drawing in this style," she says, explaining that it's perfectly possible for her to simultaneously work and carry on a telephone conversation. Only after she has stopped and stepped back from the technical process can she begin to answer the question, 'Why did I draw that?'

Yoshino says that the best response she can ever offer is a description of the circumstances surrounding any particular drawing's creation. With regard to artistic intent, however, "I don't try to tell a story." What Yoshino really wants is for the work to speak for itself, as she thinks all visual art should.

"I don't like artists' statements," Yoshino says. "My work doesn't need it." For that matter, save for the sprawling That's It, all of the work in Initiative is untitled.

"I don't really need to push my subject on other people," Yoshino says. Instead, she tries to encourage individual interpretation on the part of viewers, whom she wants to recognize "the infinite possibilities in the subconscious."

It is themes related to the subconscious - the fantastic, the fanciful, the phantasmagorical, the surreal, the macabre - that characterize Yoshino's imagery, which so often appears as a mix of guileless fantasy and unsettling (though understated) horror. Elfin or fairy-like figures with viscera-like tangles and spider's legs are recurring. "Some people say it's gross," Yoshino says with a smile, admitting that she admires the cinematic horror genre despite not being a big fan of it.

The major influence Yoshino cites is the Japanese comic book, or manga - she read thousands while growing up. Her starting point in developing herself as an artist was in fact by copying manga. Yoshino cites the playfully morbid Edward Gorey as another influence, and nods in like acknowledgment at the mention of Salvador Dali. She notes that her work, especially That's It, also contains elements of self-portrait.

Yoshino also says that she is sometimes surprised by what other people see in her art. One gallery patron could be overheard mentioning the name Shel Silverstein - a name which Yoshino confesses is unfamiliar to her. She says that her introduction to new influences, such as colour theory, has been one of the benefits of engaging others in dialogue concerning her drawings.

But Yoshino's work is what it is. "I never go back and fix my drawings," Yoshino says, explaining that she is excited by the possibility of "mistakes," such as unknowingly drawing six fingers on a hand. She also never throws any of her drawings out.

Originally from Osaka, Japan, Yoshino graduated with a BFA from the University of Regina in 2006. She explains that for a time, she did only "artisty" work, until being encouraged by a teacher to not be afraid of pursuing her more inimitable forms of artistic expression. Certainly the narrow space of Semai Gallery affords an opportunity to appreciate the subtleties of her work, forcing the viewer to encounter the images close up. In such intimacy, it is ultimately the viewer who is compelled to take the initiative and to engage.

Initiative shows until Feb. 16 at Semai Gallery, 264 McDermot St. Visit or

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