Interviewing Artist – Sandra Yagi

Contemporary and Surrealist Sandra Yagi, whose art work reflect the movement of Surrealism. Her work displaying symbolism and her unconscious creation process of art work was an inspiration towards my current work.


Lizard Brain, Sandra Yagi


What/who are your main inspirations that may have an influence in your work?

I love so many periods and styles of painting which have influenced my work: the Renaissance, Hieronymous Bosch, Titian, Jan van Eyck  early anatomical illustrators, like Vesalius and Albinus, and more recent masters like Salvador Dali, Masami Teraoka, and Walton Ford.  I also look to artists who were also naturalists: John James Audubon, John Gould, and Maria Sibylla Merian inspire me.  I am drawn to realistic art as well as fantastical art.


What do you think Surrealism means? And what makes an art work Surreal?

Surrealism to me is the exploration of the imagination and making the inner world of the mind more tangible.  My work is surrealistic in the sense that I paint scenarios that only exist in my mind, but it is not surrealism as defined in the Surrealist Manifesto.  I don’t put down marks in an automatic fashion without any conscious control.  Elements of rationality and reason are embedded throughout, so my work is best described as realistic rendering of scenes or feelings that dwell in my imagination.  As with much surrealism, I combine images in unexpected or playful ways, as well as play with words.  For example, many of my hybrid creatures are plays on words.  There is actually a beetle known as the rhinoceros beetle, but I made a creature with a beetle body and the head of a rhinoceros.  The trick was to make it look as believable as possible.  My work is surrealistic in the way that it all comes first from the imagination, but is then rendered in a realistic manner to make it believable.


Do you think Surrealism is dead? If no, is there a difference between Surreal art work during the Surrealist movement, than of today’s contemporary artists?

I don’t think Surrealism will ever die, as long as humans have imagination.  Even before the Surrealist movement, artists like Goya looked inwards to the imagination for inspiration.  Regarding the Surrealist movement and contemporary artists, I don’t think we consider it as a movement in the way that Andre Breton did.  We do have a sense of comradery fostered by the internet and social media.  I have been fortunate to get connected to many surreal  and visionary artists from around the world, via social media, and have actually had opportunities to meet them in real life at art exhibits.  I am fortunate to have met Jon Beinart, who founded the beinArt Collective in 2003.  It started as an online gallery but now has a physical space in Melbourne, Australia.  Jon has curated shows at Copro Gallery in Santa Monica, CA, USA and Last Rites Gallery in NYC.   His projects have helped generate opportunities for surreal and visionary  artists from around the world  to network and collaborate.  Before I found beinArt, I felt like my art didn’t fit anywhere, but now I feel like I have a community of similarly minded artists.   Another network is the Visionary Art Gallery and Dreams and Divinities, which both help to connect visionary and surreal artists into a worldwide network.  Sadly, the art establishment, especially art museums, tends to discount and ignore contemporary surrealism, visionary art,  and pop surrealism.  Regardless of how the art establishment views it, I continue to pursue my own vision.  I believe you have to be true to your interests and your own self, and not dance to the art market or art establishment.  I think that my fellow contemporary surrealists feel the same way.


Aesthetically, your drawings and paintings have a similar approach to Surrealists. What are your techniques to come up with such ideas? Do you use any specific idea generation methods that you use to come up with your ideas? Such as lucid dreaming, automatism, interpretation of dreams, childhood memories etc.. If you do not use any methods how do you come up with such images?

When I was in a corporate job, and not painting or creating on a regular basis, I had the most incredible dreams.  But now that I paint or draw daily, my dreams have become ordinary.  I think it’s because my unconscious mind has found an outlet while I’m working. For inspiration, I look at art by both old and modern masters. I also go to art museums, the zoo and natural history museums. I do draw on childhood memories and interests.  As an example, I was totally fascinated with tadpoles and frogs and now I often incorporate them into my work.  I loved to go fishing and watch beautiful silvery fish emerge from the dark depths of the water.  Some of this imagery still finds its way into my work.  Nature, human anatomy, and science are common themes in my work, and I have been drawn to these subjects since I was very young.    I often get a blurry or incomplete vision of an idea, and jot it down, either in words or a quick little thumbnail sketch. Some ideas are realized right away, and others just percolate, sometimes for years. Once I decide on the next painting to work on, I start making more formal sketches. I start gathering reference material, either images off the web, or photographs I’ve taken. I sometimes sculpt a small scale model out of modeling clay to help understand the volume and shadow of the subject. I keep numerous reference objects around the studio, such as animal skull casts, skeletal casts, insect specimens, and props. For backgrounds, I often go to Golden Gate Park for tree references, or to the botanical gardens for rain forest scenes. Each painting is the result of hours of research, sketches, and long stretches at the easel.


What is your message, you want your work to exhibit?

My recent paintings incorporate anatomical imagery to explore the human psychological condition and humanity’s affect on the natural world. I use cutaway skulls portray our basic human drives and the thin veneer of humanity overlaying our animal nature.  I want viewers to realize that we have the capacity for violence and cruelty, and that we must make efforts to allow our humanity to override our animal instincts.  The skeletons and skulls have always represented mortality, and we need to never forget that life is finite and that we need to make our time here as meaningful as possible.  I’ve also used skeletons to symbolize extinction at the hands of man, with the hope that we will halt our destruction of the environment and become stewards of the earth.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s