Art as ‘telling your own story’

Samyak Yamauchi, at Manzanita's Hoffman Gallery: painting can be as simple as playing with paint on a surface.

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I’ve been saying for years that I’m going to take a painting class, but no sooner do I check out my options than I am reminded of the litany of doubts. And, of course, I never do enroll in a class.

So when I read the description of Samyak Yamauchi’s upcoming class at the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita, it was like someone calling my name. She got it. Lack of experience, of formal education, of thinking there was a right way – none of it mattered.

Yamauchi’s workshop is full, but her paintings are on display in the Hoffman Gallery through Sept. 1. The Portland artist has a second home on the Nehalem River, so don’t be surprised if she offers the workshop on the Coast again.

I talked with Yamauchi about her process and those things that hold us back. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Neahkahnie Mountain is the backdrop for “Meet Me at the Beach in Manzanita,” by Samyak Yamauchi (acrylic on wood, 24 by 24 inches), on display at the Hoffman Gallery in Manzanita.
“Meet Me at the Beach in Manzanita,” by Samyak Yamauchi (acrylic on wood, 24 x 24 inches), is part of a show in Manzanita’s Hoffman Gallery. Yamauchi’s advice to aspiring painters: Just do it.

What is your medium?

Yamauchi:  Acrylic and mixed-media painting. I started painting in 2013. I’d been a glass-mosaic artist; I’d always wanted to paint, but I was always afraid, because I wouldn’t know how to do it. So I went to a Portland Open Studios tour and saw what Jesse Reno was doing, and I was like, oh my gosh, this all you need to do. I realized that painting could be about telling your own story.

What exactly was he doing?

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He was painting these really big, kind of narrative, sort of symbolic, dream-like paintings. He showed how he keeps transforming his painting. He changes them. What I saw was, there was just this real intuitive way of painting that didn’t depend on having a formal background in technique. A light went on. I was like, I could do this.

Artist Samyak Yamauchi and Dash, a 2-year-old rescue, both are fans of the beach.
Artist Samyak Yamauchi and Dash, a 2-year-old rescue, both are fans of the beach.

Was it that simple?

I decided I was going to paint. I took a two-day class from him. Then I took another two-day class from another painter. What I learned was that one, I didn’t need to have this formal art degree, and two, that it was really a lot of just playing with paint on a surface. Moving it. Using my hands. I didn’t know you could paint with your hands or paint with a paper towel. I thought there was a certain way you have to paint. It just freed me up. So yes, it really was that simple.

When did you start teaching?

I’ve taught several classes a year for the last three years. I started teaching because I was juried in Portland Open Studios, and people were asking, ‘Do you teach this?’ I was a classroom teacher my whole career, so it’s a very comfortable place for me to be. It was such a fun process. Fun, fun, fun. I just wanted to share it with people, especially people who don’t know how to paint.

One of the things that made it easy for me is that my process involves looking into an abstract of layers and marks, looking for imagery in those marks and colors. That’s really easy for me to see. I’ve always been able to see faces in trees, pictures in shadows. When I did mosaics, the backboard of my mosaics had different shadows and lines, texture. I’d see these images and that’s what I would build with the glass. It’s the same process with paint that I used with mosaics.

How successful have you been as an artist?

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“A Very Windy Day,” by Samyak Yamauchi (acrylic on paper, 10 by 12 inches), is also on display in the Hoffman Gallery.
“A Very Windy Day,” by Samyak Yamauchi (acrylic on paper, 10 x 12 inches), is also in the Hoffman Gallery show.

I started showing my work in 2015 and it really resonated with people. Someone saw my work and she was a producer with Oregon Art Beat, and they came and did a little segment, so that brought a lot of people to me for classes. I’ve sold hundreds of paintings in that short time. I’ve had a few solo shows. I have gallery representation at Riversea Gallery in Astoria and I show at Guardino Gallery in Portland.

What do you say to readers who want to paint but let their doubts hold them back?

I say that it really is about working with the materials and kind of letting the materials do their thing. I feel like whatever is going to happen will happen on that paper, if you let it happen. It is realizing that painting can be whatever it is for me. If you want to paint, you have to paint. You just have to do it.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pup Gus.

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