Listening to the Whisper: Taro Yamamoto On View at Bakker Gallery

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by G.W. Mercure

The abstract expressionism movement, which produced towering figures in twentieth-century American art such as Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and others, continues to burst forth in bits of relevance, from the recent controversies around a major exhibition of Philip Guston’s work, which was postponed because it contained satirical (and critical) characterizations of hooded Ku Klux Klan figures, to the resurgence of Jackson Pollock.

Full Moon (1991, oil on canvas)

Although Provincetown was already a vibrant and vital art community, the abstract expressionism movement and the nation’s oldest art colony fed each other almost immediately and continuously. And with the current exhibition of painter Taro Yamamoto’s work at Bakker Gallery, that symbiosis continues.

Yamomoto was a Japanese-American artist who studied with Hans Hofmann in New York City, created work worthy of exclusive fellowships (a John Sloan Memorial Fellowship; an Edward G. McDowell Traveling Fellowship), traveled and studied in Europe, and settled on the Outer Cape in 1955, where he remained until his passing in 1993.

“It was a very empowering time in Provincetown,” says his son, Vincent Yamamoto. “There was a lot of creativity from all aspects within the community and my dad was right there at that time with all the greats.”

Yamamoto studied extensively with Hofmann, rubbed elbows with and learned from Byron Browne and Morris Kantor, and was a close friend of Alexander Calder. He created murals around Provincetown, some of which still remain.

“My father was very influenced by Hans Hofmann and the non-objective movement (a term used to describe some early twentieth-century abstract art that presaged the abstract expressionism of the 1940s and 1950s). The push-pull concept: He embraced it fully. He was a colorist – he loved it.”

The art world in Provincetown and elsewhere seems to have found a place in its attention for almost every artist associated with the abstract expressionism movement, even if briefly, while Yamamoto has remained a whisper in a noisy room. But his work has been exhibited by the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) on the Cape; the Krasner Gallery, The Art Students League, and the Stable Gallery in New York City; and at Gallerie Huit in Paris, France, among many others. During the 1960s, his work was most commonly found in his own 371 Gallery in Provincetown.

“According to the mainstream art world, that’s when he created his best work, during the 50s and the 60s,” says Yamamoto. “Most of that work is out there now. I don’t know where it is or who has it. I have just a few pieces from the period.”

What remains with the estate is being exhibited by the Bakker Gallery in a show that continues through September 5th.

“Back in 2012, my dad had a one-man show at PAAM. And so I was a little familiar with the curators and Mr. Bakker,” says the younger Yamamoto. “He is very familiar with my dad’s work. And after that show, some people suggested that he would be a very good person to contact as far as getting involved with that particular aspect of my dad.”

The work, bursts of color that are by turns joyful and introspective, evokes Yamamoto’s contemporaries de Kooning, Hofmann, and Grace Hartigan, as well as near-contemporaries like Arshile Gorky and Piet Mondrian. Some of the quieter furies of Czech painter Vaclav Vytlacil can be found in Yamamoto’s work also. But Yamamoto’s work, as with most abstract painting, confounds easy comparison. His contributions to the art world were never whispers to those who knew him best, nor to his son who continues to cherish his work and legacy.

“My mother always wanted to stress to anyone who would listen that my father was a very, very gifted person. To get that Edward G. McDowell Traveling Fellowship was not an easy thing. It wasn’t given out to a lot of artists,” says Yamamoto. “‘He was a genius,’ is what my mother would always tell me.”

Taro Yamamoto’s work is on view at Bakker Gallery, 335 Commercial St., Provincetown through September 5. For more information call 508.413.9758  or visit bakkerproject.com.