Artist Spotlight: Mayuka Yamamoto

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
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Oct 01, 2021 / 0 comments

From September 25th – October 30th, 2021, downtown Los Angeles’ Corey Helford Gallery proudly presents their next major solo show, entitled Monochrome, Apples and Animals, from Japanese oil painter Mayuka Yamamoto in the Main Gallery.

Apple. From Artist Spotlight: Mayuka Yamamoto
Yamamoto is widely recognized as one of Japan’s leading second-generation contemporary artists, whose works depict children sporting animal features and enigmatic expressions. The artist’s oil paintings often appear reticent and introspective. The emotions of the child characters in Yamamoto’s works, or “animal boys” as she often calls them, are meant to be a mystery to the viewer. They exude an aura of otherworldly calm and demeanor that belie their true emotional and psychological states, juxtaposed against subtle settings painted in soft, muted color tones. Like a protective armor in response to their emotions and psychological state, they seem to instinctively hide behind a second skin in the form of animal costumes or some other defensive physical animalistic features. In some of the pieces, Yamamoto paints settings inspired by nature, further enhancing the contemplative space into which the subject seems to find solace in the dreamlike natural habitat.

Regarding her new series, Yamamoto shares: “I wanted to keep this a secret for myself and keep it in my heart. Many years ago, there was a place I thought I had to go to, and I went there, the Catacombs in Palermo. There is a space for child mummies, and they are just standing there in dresses. The space was filled with the love of the mothers for their children. This scene lingered in my mind for a long time. I think most of the children in the pictures I draw are just standing or sitting, without much movement much like the Catacombs. I think it's because that space full of love remains in me to this day.
When I asked myself why I continue to draw these pictures, even though I am no longer a child, I realized I feel nostalgia for my childhood. It seems that my way of preserving this feeling is to paint these pictures continually. I have a certain memory of when I was young; my parents always worked very hard, but Christmas was our family time together at home. It was a special day. Even now, when I smell the candles on a Christmas cake, my heart returns to my childhood as clear as if it were yesterday. It's the same feeling as when I finished drawing these pictures. When I look at my work, I feel a little sadness and longing, but also happy.”

Sitting Pink Bear Boy, Oil on canvas 51.3 x 35.2 From Artist Spotlight: Mayuka Yamamoto
Sitting Pink Bear Boy, Oil on canvas 51.3 x 35.2

Born in 1964 in Okayama, Japan, Yamamoto received her master’s degree at Tokyo’s Masashino Art University in 1990 and joined the Japanese Government Overseas Study Program for Artist to continue her studies in London until 1999. Her works have been shown in several solo shows held by Japan’s Gallery Tsubaki and her 2007 solo show, titled Deer Boy and Other infants, was hosted by Canvas International Arts gallery in Amsterdam. She also participated in group shows at the Korean International Art Fair (2004–2007) and Young Japanese Painting (2007, Amsterdam).

Without further ado, the work and words of Mayuka Yamamoto...

How long have you been an artist?
It's been about 20 years.

Is your art your full-time career?

Red Bear Boy, Oil on canvas 57.3  x 38.2. From Artist Spotlight: Mayuka Yamamoto
Red Bear Boy, Oil on canvas 57.3  x 38.2

Where do you work?  How long have you been there?
Currently, I have two studios, Tokyo, and Gunma. The studio in Tokyo has been around for two and a half years.

Do you have favorite places you like to create?
It is a small studio in Tokyo. Since the studio in Gunma is large, I can paint a big work, but since the hospital where my family goes is in Tokyo, I decided to have a studio in Tokyo as well. I can't make a “blockbuster” sized painting, but it's comfortable.

What does a typical day look like? Is there a typical day?
Wake up in the morning and continue working on the piece from yesterday. As time goes by, you will usually see some issues that need to be fixed, so check where to fix them. I usually paint after breakfast. In the afternoon, I will finish my chores and paint some more until dinner. I will do more work after dinner until bedtime. It sounds monotonous, but I’m consistently pushing myself and the process is an emotional one.

Little Polar Bear Boy, Oil on canvas17.9 x 13.1. From Artist Spotlight: Mayuka Yamamoto
Little Polar Bear Boy, Oil on canvas17.9 x 13.1

What materials do you prefer?
Oil painting on canvas.

Where/How are you inspired?
The color of the billboards in the city you see while you are out, the texture of your child's skin, the zoo, etc.

Flapping Penguin Boy, Oil on canvas 51.3 x 35.2. From Artist Spotlight: Mayuka Yamamoto
Flapping Penguin Boy, Oil on canvas 51.3 x 35.2

How do you know when your piece is done?
When you realize that you can't add to it or subtract any more.

Do you work on one or more pieces at a time?
Since my studio in Tokyo is small, I am often painting just one work.

Bear Boy, Oil on canvas 51.3 x 35.2. From Artist Spotlight: Mayuka Yamamoto
Bear Boy, Oil on canvas 51.3 x 35.2

If you were not an artist, what would you do?
I might have wanted to be a pharmacist.

How can our readers find and purchase your art?
Currently, at Corey Helford Gallery in LA. Please contact each gallery at the time of the exhibition.

Little King Owl, Oil on canvas 17.9 x 13.1. From Artist Spotlight: Mayuka Yamamoto
Little King Owl, Oil on canvas 17.9 x 13.1

Would you like to share anything else with us?
I would like to talk about how I make my paintings. I had a child 20 years ago, and since becoming a mother, my production time was greatly reduced. Child-rearing does not end in one or two years, so I thought about how to make my works while also raising children. Therefore, I decided to take the plunge and change my production method up to that point. It is a production method that involves drawing a picture on a small canvas that can be done quickly while cradling the child, and after the child sleeps, I prepare a large canvas and transfer the image from the small canvas. That method is still ongoing. With a small canvas, for example, if you decide to change the color of the background, it will take me less than 10 minutes. In my case, it takes 3 hours for a large work. So, to save time, I try and work on a small canvas, and after it is almost completed, I will move the image to a large canvas. 

After using this method, I was able to produce a work that I was satisfied with despite the time constraint. At first, I didn't display my small sized canvases in the gallery, but when I told a gallery owner about my process, he said that he would definitely like to exhibit my small paintings as well. Therefore, I decided to raise the degree of details of the small painting, which was 80%, to 10 and exhibit it. From that time on, my work has one large and one small (approximately 455x333mm or 18” x 13”) and (approximately 1303x970mm or 51” x 38”) with the same image. Not exactly the same, but the subject is the same.

Little Dog Boy in Box, Oil on canvas 17.9 x 13.1. From Artist Spotlight: Mayuka Yamamoto
Little Dog Boy in Box, Oil on canvas 17.9 x 13.1


About Corey Helford Gallery:
Established in 2006 by Jan Corey Helford and her husband, television producer/creator Bruce Helford (The Conners, Anger Management, The Drew Carey Show, and George Lopez), Corey Helford Gallery (CHG) has since evolved into one of the premier galleries of New Contemporary art. Its goal as an institution is supporting the growth of artists, from the young and emerging, to the well-known and internationally established. CHG represents a diverse collection of international artists, primarily influenced by today's pop culture and collectively encompassing style genres such as New Figurative Art, Pop Surrealism, Neo Pop, Graffiti, and Street Art. Located in downtown Los Angeles at 571 S. Anderson St. Los Angeles, CA 90033, in a robust 12,000 square foot building, CHG presents new exhibitions approximately every six weeks. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm, with visiting hours being Thursday through Saturday from 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm. For more info and an upcoming exhibition schedule, visit

All photos courtesy and copyright Mayuka Yamamoto, used with permission