Focus on Denver: Peter Yumi’s Process-based Collages Evoke Timely Technological Concerns

by Paul Weiner

There is an aura of technological apprehension enveloping Peter Yumi’s process-heavy collages, an atmosphere of repetitious undulation that forms a tornado of imagery. The collages slip into a vacuum of illusory space with limits defined only by the syntax of Yumi’s rigidly predetermined, formulaic process, which would read as a specter of formalist painting if it didn’t act as a signifier for the cold effectiveness implicit in contemporary digital interactions. The collages also evince intuitive tropes as seen in the artist’s working materials from dilapidated selfies to gift-wrapped patterning.

The Denver based artist and former tiger handler for a Las Vegas magic show studied at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and his work has been featured by the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Palm Springs Art Museum, Andenken Gallery, and various other venues throughout the United States. Yumi was also recently interviewed in Westword‘s 100 Colorado Creatives series. More images of Yumi’s work can be found on his website.

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Faces, collage, Peter Yumi, 2014


Paul Weiner:
How do you find imagery to use in your collages?

Peter Yumi:
Mostly, the materials are found. I collect junk walking around, and people give me a ton of magazines. I also go to estate sales and buy vintage Christmas wrapping paper. I admit it. I have a gift wrapping paper fetish. I started asking friends to pose for me for my newest work. I just send them a text and say, “hey can you send me some selfies?” and they do. The internet is a miracle. I own nearly every single issue of Playboy and decades and decades of National Geographic. I have also taken to collecting soda cans I find or consume on my own and crushing them with my car to use in my collages. I create most of the imagery in the collages on my own, though. I paint quite obsessively. I scan those paintings or photograph them, and they are eventually added to the collages.

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Ladies in the House, collage, Peter Yumi, 2014

Paul Weiner:
There are often figures embedded within your collages. Who are these figures, and what meaning do they bring to the work?

Peter Yumi:
Most of the images are of friends or of people from current events. Some are from my Playboy collection. I have been working on my artwork pretty intensely the past few years, and I have not been that social as a result, so I started going out to galleries and photographing people I know as well. Mainly, I wanted to have my work express this general feeling of being cut off from what makes us human, being creative and having the balance of being an individual and part of a community. Today, we have all sorts of gizmos like the internet and our smart phones to be part of a world wide global nervous system, but the payoff is to maintain that you have to give up some of the freedoms of being a free spirit. Everything this measured now. In the workplace, keystrokes and other behaviors are measured, but behaviors that can not be quantified are being forgotten: how well did my cashier at the grocery store make someones day? Those types of behaviors are becoming less and less important. We are losing individual expression at the cost of productivity, and that is really a shame. But, at the same time, I am fearful and know others often feel oppressed by our new technological world but love the rewards that it gives. So, the images are supposed to reflect that feeling of being human and being part of technology or the age of technology anxiety. The subject matter is something important to me because I know that I am not the only one who feels this sense of alienation and dehumanization.

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City, collage, Peter Yumi

Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about your physical process for collage. What kinds of techniques are you using?

Peter Yumi:
I wrote three different versions to explain how I make these collages. Basically I paint a lot, and as a painter I am very expressive. I have always had a love of patterns and textiles and try to use those in the paintings. I try not to think. I have been a mediator for over twenty years, and that plays an important role in my process. If I start thinking things like “this is really good” or “this is really bad,” I just say to myself, in my head, “you’re thinking,” and I welcome myself back to painting, and I go back to painting. I have created all of these steps to keep as much of my neurotic self out of my process. Once I start making the final collage works, I have a much more methodical means of production.

The work involves a lengthy process of creating paintings and drawings that are scanned and catalogued by color, pattern, and subject matter for later use. Vintage wrapper paper and found photos or selfies and model photos are hole-punched and paper cut involving a process that allows for random cuts to limit the editorial choices. Each and every step of the process involves a set of rules in an attempt to leave the self out of the editorial process. Once the images have been prepped, they are scanned and catalogued. Later, the images are harvested for use in the creation of new images in Photoshop. They are worked through a process that again prohibits many editorial choices and leaves much to chance operations. Once that process is completed, the multiple images are printed out and cut apart using scissors, hole punchers, and circle cutters. They are then laid out on sheets of plexiglass, where they are in turn photographed or scanned. Then the process is again repeated 8, 13, or 21 times. The following rule is used to express the number of layers:

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 7.17.00 PM

Once the layering is completed, sanding of the finished object occurs. The collage is scanned and then processed in Photoshop using a 3% black layer with noise filter set at 348.21%. The images are then saved and sent to production using an HP5800 large-format printer.

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John Babcock, collage, Peter Yumi, 2014

Paul Weiner:
Where would you ideally like to see your artwork displayed? Does it fit in a traditional gallery or more of an alternative setting?

Peter Yumi:
I have been looking at joining a few co-op galleries here in Denver. I have spent the past five years or so wood shedding and really editing and working out my process, experimenting. I have been hesitant to show a lot of my work for that reason. I think of the process that writers go through, writing and rewriting and editing and reediting their work, is something that artists should embrace more. In the past, I would make work specifically for a group show, but now I have taken to creating an entire body of work that reads more like a delicious book of poems, and I have found that’s what it requires. I have shown my older work in a number of galleries, but for my newest work I want full control of what I am creating and the environment. I am essentially creating a space that is fully immersible with sound, light, and imagery, so it is important to me to be able to work with the rules that I have set up and do what the work demands. Right now, some of my prints might be ok with a group showing, but ideally they all need to been seen in a space together. They are brothers and sisters. It is my job, like any father, to raise them right and make sure that I provide a good place to nurture them. I work for them. They don’t work for me.

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Playboy, collage, Peter Yumi, 2014

Paul Weiner:
Do you see the images you use from Playboy or National Geographic as having appropriated meaning when taken out of their original context or are they only for aesthetic purposes?

Peter Yumi:
I like using the images from anywhere I can find them, really. Sometimes, I will see an image, and it will really hit me like a punch in the gut or it will make me laugh uncontrollably. I have really been doing my best to use images that are older than ten years old, mainly because I want my images to look very contemporary. I think many collage artists fall into the trap of making work with old images because they are copying collage styles from the past, but, when those artists made much of that collage originally, those were new images to them. It is important to me to see those distinctions between new and old images. If the image in the magazine is old, and I like it, though, I just treat it like any other image. In the end, it is about the result. I remember talking with a collage artists about how he used images from a book printed in the 1930s, just cut them up. He seemed proud of this, but to me, that’s what the work demands of a collage artist. You cut stuff up just like a painter mixes paint. A painter does not regret mixing pure blue with red to make purple, so a collage artist shouldn’t have those regrets either.

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Abe, collage, Peter Yumi

Paul Weiner:
How did you come up with the rules and equations for your process?

Peter Yumi:
John Cage has been an enormous influence on my work. I used to use I Ching to make my rules. Now, I make my rules through planning and observation of what other artists are doing. Sometimes, it will be a simple rule like only one image can be used in this collage, but you can have multiple copies of that same image. Sometimes, it will be no green. Other times, I will construct elaborate rules based off of language of some poets. Steve McCaffery does it so will with poetry, and I borrow a lot from the poets from that school. The equation I shared earlier is an expression of the Fibonacci sequence and it is used by artists all the time. Sometimes, they don’t even know they are using it with golden ratios. For my layering of images with glass, I decided upon the number of images layered at any given time based on that sequence. It goes like this: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21. I can have one image by itself, that image with a second image, or a third, but, if I add any additional layers of glass, there has to be five because 2+3=5. So on and so forth, it makes it fun to have those limits. All sorts of strange things start happening during that process, things that happen just because of those rules.

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Palace of Water, collage, Peter Yumi, 2014

Paul Weiner:
How may collages would you estimate that you create over the course of a month?

Peter Yumi:
That’s really hard to say. I usually make ten to twenty images a day or more. Then my final finished collage work, I make twenty or more a month. I have created all sorts of ways of automating how the work is shared online with programs like Hootsuite. I use other means to randomly generate tagging of images on social media. I take all that data that is generated from views to my page to create a spreadsheet so I can track the highest number of views and where those people are coming from. That is a project of its own. I am working on a program now that will output all that data visually on my website so people can, if anyone cares but me, see in a beautiful way what they are looking at exactly.

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Ladies, collage, Peter Yumi, 2014

Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about the Denver art scene. What art venues do you go to when you want to see something interesting?

Peter Yumi:
I mostly go to galleries on Saturday or Sunday afternoon by myself and look at the work when no one is in the galleries. I will go to any space that has shows with friends or folks whose work I am interested in. I am very egalitarian in my choices of artwork. I honestly don’t know a lot about which galleries are currently trendy one or the ones people think are not that great. My thing is that I feel if people are making work that is thought provoking and downright interesting, I am interested in looking at it. I love artists, and anytime someone is making art, I don’t care who they are or who people think they are or aren’t. I feel joy that people are making artwork. We need more people making artwork in our world filled with strife and suffering, creating, getting out of their habitual thinking patterns, and being generally more alive. I just love artists and art.


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