Yui Sakamoto: Surrealism with Mexican Iconography

By Margaret Failoni

In an era where everything has gone global, we should not be surprised that a gifted young Japanese artist creates pulsatingly surreal visions of gloom and doom married to a sensuous Mexican iconography. But like the Mexican Day of the Dead festivities, the doom becomes an excitingly glorious bacchanal with dancing devils making gloom appear very attractive indeed.

Yui arrived in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, when barely a teenager because his father had been licensed to teach Japanese in a Monterrey school. After a few years, the family returned to Japan, leaving Yui in Mexico to study art. It was not long before he was teaching in an important art school in Aguascalientes. The decision had been made. He was magically captured by Mexico’s culture and traditions. He settled in San Miguel de Allende to continue in his quest of paying pictorial homage to a land which was pure magic to him. At the same time, the young artist studied and admired the entire world of the 20th century Surrealist movement, with a particular preference for Salvador Dalí. It is not surprising to find some vague and/or faint reference to Dalí in all his paintings.


Using the precision and meticulousness of methods of Japanese painting, the artist successfully creates exquisite painting techniques with the exciting vision of Mexican folk art traditions. The legends of the skull figures dancing off the picture plane, the Katrinas, the iguanas and the jaguars, the tropical fruits, all juxtaposed to tell stories of love and marriage, of death and the after world, of the flora and fauna of the land, almost a pictorial serenade to Gaia, the earth goddess. Many present-day customs also sneak into the pictures, such as the falling god, a bronze-hued youth with the native Indian codes and images tattooed onto his body, the Dalí-like shattered egg in place of his head, or the mother/goddess figure in the pale moon light floating in a yoga-like position. East meets west. In one large painting we see a meal being consumed by an alligator and a native turkey on a Day of the Dead altar with libation being enjoyed by a turtle and a Cholosquincles (hairless) dog. Far in the background, a jolly death is serenading the group while a less joyful one sits in the center of the table, waiting to be served.

This is most definitely not your usual folk art painting still being produced in many of the Mexican provinces. Here is a highly skilled and sophisticated artist paying homage to the cultural heritage of a country he has adopted and loves but at the same time injecting a surreal vision of what makes his world go ‘round. One can spend hours studying these paintings to discover many subtly hidden subjects and interpretations. Bold, exciting, and magical are just a few of the expressions this exhibition evokes. And how á propos that this exhibition be presented during the Day of the Dead festivities.


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