Renewed Sense of Wonder: Interview with Yuria Okamura

Yuria Okamura's art practice focuses on geometric drawing on both paper and walls. She collects, rearranges and transforms abstract symbols of various cultural and religious traditions. In this way, her work brings together and reinterprets various idealities from across cultures and histories in the hope of invoking a renewed sense of wonder into our contemporary worldview.

She maps and reconfigures geometric patterns and symbols that reference esoteric symbolism, occult diagrams, religious architecture and decoration, and spiritualist abstract painting through the use of diagrammatic aesthetics. By doing so, she examines the implications of harmonic ideals that seem to be universally embedded in the orderliness of geometry, and how such ideas might be reinterpreted in the new interrelated compositions. Yuria also deploys wall drawing to unify the diverse geometric forms and to create immersive drawing installations through the use of architecture and gardens as visual metaphors. By incorporating spatiality in this way, she explores abstract drawings' potential to operate as open-ended contemplative spaces for reimagining possibilities of metaphysical harmony and connectivity. 

Yuria is a Melbourne-based artist whose drawing practice explores harmonic ideals through the use of geometry and diagrammatic aesthetics. She has completed Master of Fine Arts (Research) at the Victorian College of the Arts, the University of Melbourne in 2015, and Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) in 2010 at RMIT University. In 2016, Yuria was selected for Abbotsford Convent Studio Start-up Residency and Bayside City Council Residency. She has received a number of awards and scholarships, including Stuart Black Memorial Travelling Scholarship, Ursula Hoff Institute Drawing Award, Lloyd Rees Memorial Youth Art Award, RMIT Honours Travelling Endowment Scholarship, RMIT Siemens Fine Art Scholarship, and Facetnate Visual Art Grant. Yuria has been showing her work in solo and group exhibitions both nationally and internationally, including C3 Contemporary Art Space(Melbourne), Anna Pappas Gallery(Melbourne), Five Walls (Melbourne), Rubicon ARI (Melbourne), Kunstraum Tapir (Berlin, Germany), Langford 120 (Melbourne), Seventh Gallery (Melbourne), Japan Foundation Gallery (Sydney), and Mølla På Grim (Kristiansand, Norway).

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Tell me about yourself and your creative background.

I am a visual artist based in Melbourne, Australia. My drawing practice, which includes works on paper and immersive wall drawings, explores harmonic ideals through the language of geometry and diagrammatic aesthetics. I'm interested in different beliefs and worldviews, and I map these out to try to make sense of it all by a visual means, I suppose, through a kind of aesthetic logic. I bring together and reconfigure geometric patterns and symbols that reference esoteric symbolism, occult diagrams, religious architecture and decoration, and spiritualist abstract painting. I examine the symbolic implications of harmonic ideas that seem to be universally embedded in the orderliness of geometry, and how such ideas might be reinterpreted in the new interrelated compositions. Abstract visual language can be interpreted in so many different ways, and through this quality, I hope my work can operate as open-ended maps or contemplative spaces for reimagining possibilities of metaphysical harmony.

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When did you start integrating the geometric patterns and symbols into your work? What inspired your most recent series?

I started using geometric patterns in my final year of BFA and really focused on it for my MFA, which I completed in 2015. My last body of work resulted from a research trip to Morocco and Southern Spain. I looked at Moorish architecture and ornamentation with a particular focus on mosques, and how geometric structures and designs embody the idea of interconnectedness and harmony in this cultural context.

My inclination to bring together diverse visions in my work from across cultures is, I think, influenced by my own experiences: migrating from Japan to Australia, and also traveling to Indonesia, India, Morocco and all over Europe. Having an appreciation for different cultures, and at the same time finding commonalities amongst the diverse worldviews expressed through visual language, has led me to engage with the universality of geometric forms.

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Your work is beautiful, delicate and extremely detailed. Share a little bit about your process with us. How do you prepare for each work and what goes into making each piece?

It begins with collecting source images. I'm constantly adding to my library of esoteric illustrations, early scientific diagrams, religious architecture and decoration, and abstract artworks. I extract shapes and patterns from these, modify and combine them to create new compositions. First, just with free-hand drawing, and once I'm happy with the composition, I make a proper draft on graph paper. I then trace the outlines through embossing onto the watercolor paper and start drawing lines and adding color. These drawings are often installed together with wall drawing, which is aimed at spatializing the work to create an immersive and contemplative quality. This aspect is inspired by a variety of religious architecture and gardens. The religious architecture provides a space for imagining immaterial possibilities, and gardens across cultures embody the idea of a paradise: an earthly site of harmony. In particular, Japanese gardens together with its architectural structures are intended to be mediating spaces where natural and metaphysical, or material and immaterial elements come together. Similarly, I hope my work can visualize a contemplative space for integrating inner and outer realities.

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What do you do when you feel stuck or frustrated? How do you get out of a creative slump?

If something is not working in the studio and I feel frustrated, I allow myself a short break to go for a walk or do some gardening. But then I usually get straight back into the studio because it's impossible for me to relax or think about anything else until I figure out what to do! Sometimes this means scrapping the work and starting again.

Fortunately, I haven't had a creative slump for a long time. I think it's because I've gotten into the habit of going into the studio every day (unless I have other commitments) even if I don't know what I'm going to do. Even when I feel uninspired, I force myself to get into the studio and at least think about my practice by looking at pictures, sketching, reading or writing. I don't believe in just waiting for inspiration. It does occasionally come to me out of the blue, but for the most part, I consciously search for it through practice.

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What is a typical day like for you and how do you find a balance between art and personal life?

I try to exercise a little and get my errands and admin tasks done in the morning, spend all afternoon in the studio, have a dinner break and back in the studio for an evening session. But in reality, every day is different. Sometimes I have to spend all day running errands, writing applications, or working at a part-time job, and I'd enjoy a relaxing evening with my partner, family, and friends a few times a week.

What I experience in my personal life feeds into my art practice and vice versa in a constant loop, so I like to think of them as one and the same. For example, travel is an integral part of my art practice: every trip inspires a new body of work, and my practice, in turn, drives me to seek a new adventure. I also love being in nature, spending time with family and friends, reading books and listening to podcasts, all of which I used to neglect because I thought I had to focus solely on art. I still tend to overwork, but I'm aware now that my creative energy gets depleted if I lock myself in the studio for too long and it needs to be reinvigorated by experiencing the world.

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What are you currently working on and what should we be on the lookout for?

I'm working on a new body of works on paper inspired by my trip to the U.S last year. It is a continuation of my diagrammatic, geometric drawing practice but it references Native American sand paintings and tapestry. In this series, I considered how a kinship to the natural world can be expressed through geometric patterns and how geometric forms can have a symbolic function within rituals. I'm actually coming back to the U.S in March 2019 for a residency at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which I am very excited about! I'm planning to further develop the spatial component of my practice by examining MASS MoCA's extensive collection of Sol LeWitt's wall drawings.