The deceptive simplicity of painter Holly Yoshida
Through technical finesse and selective depiction, Holly Yoshida’s oil paintings of domestic spaces quietly elevate the mundane.
HOLLY YOSHIDA’S curious paintings are deceptively simple portals into the viewer’s psyche. Her still life interiors depict eerily empty rooms devoid of personal artefacts or human existence; they give no sense of to whom these spaces belong. Instead, Yoshida’s precise use of depth and clever point of view invites the viewer to project themself on to—or even insert themself into—her paintings.
Two works displayed in The View From Here exhibition, both drawn from the State Art Collection, are no exception to this. They both reference contemporary subjects—typical Perth homes—but are painted using Yoshida’s signature reversal of a traditional grisaille technique. (Instead of working from greyscale in the underpainting and adding colour, Yoshida starts with colour and paints monochromatically over the top.) Yoshida’s early-career decision to specialise in oil painting was part eagerness to master the traditional medium and part act of compassion, care and devotion to her subjects; feelings attended to through mixing the infinite possibilities of oil paint. It’s a process that brings out the complexity in perceivably mundane scenes.
Five and a Half Minute Hallway: Exploration 6 (2019) is a painting that both reveals and hides parts of a typical Perth rental home. The scene lacks a human subject, and even contains a vacant picture frame on the wall; the space is an empty vessel that draws in the viewer as the occupant. Yoshida says in doing so, the space takes on a private intimacy.
“Being sad within empty rooms is pretty normal because it’s an empty space to be filled, so whatever you have inside of you is what it gets filled with,” she says. “You’ve become situated in the scene and think: ‘What am I going to do now? Where does this lead me?’.”
The viewer is confronted with a sense of emptiness and erasure but they need not feel alone. They are with themself, their own thoughts and histories.
Similarly, in Offerings (2021), Yoshida focuses on mundanity and selectively erases personal belongings. She focused on portraying “ghosts and invisible presences, where walls, which are porous in nature, inhale the memories and feelings of the people that inhabit them”. A delicate patch of blue light pulls the viewer into a space that is simultaneously supernatural and secular.
Offerings references a home that was once a site of intimacy for Yoshida, and was built from offering a small part of herself to the work and exhaling what the walls had absorbed over time.
Spaces hold memory and energy, and that is also true of Yoshida’s work. Depending on the occupant, spaces are also in constant flux; like Yoshida herself. Her painterly precision and fervor for learning and developing her work mean there can be no fixed idea of who Yoshida is as a painter, just as there is no fixed interpretation of her paintings.
This article was first published in the print publication The View From Here in October 2021 under the title Deceptive Simplicity.