Joyce Yamada is a Brooklyn-based artist working in both painting and multi-media installation. An intuitive painter using complex imagery, she is profoundly interested in science, ecology, and the environment. She probes the relationship between humans and nature, the deep history of life on earth, and our possible futures.
Joyce Yamada found her calling as an artist while a teenager and began her art studies in Italy, UC Berkeley, and the San Francisco Art Institute. Sensing that her artwork would lie outside of current art trends, and wanting both survival and artistic independence, after several years she decided to gain a practical non-art skill. In short, she gained her artist’s survival day job as a physician at UT Austin and the UT Southwestern Medical School. She worked part-time for 20 years as a Diagnostic Radiologist, retiring in 2004. She moved to Brooklyn in 2006 as a full-time artist, working in both painting and in multi-media installations.
Her training in science and medicine was congenial—biology, evolution, and physics were her favorite subjects, and continued reading in science since then has been a great source of inspiration. Science is the lens through which she understands the world. As an artist, since her entire worldview is science-based, much of her work is an imaginative interpretation or presentation of scientific concepts and findings. Her 20 years of Diagnostic Radiology work has influenced her imagery. Radiology involves imaging the human body in every imaging modality that human ingenuity can devise for the purpose of medical diagnosis. Radiologists see the human body not only as living skeletons, but also in images designed to show physiological function. It expands the visual imagery of the body. This background is most obvious in Yamada’s work that features symbolic humans---avatars for the human in relation to the natural world. Currently she is using a living skeleton, Yorick,and has also invented a symbolic human, Waterhuman, an avatar made entirely of water.
Yamada’s father was a scientist, artist, and physician who, though born in the US, spent most of his childhood in Japan. There he embraced the traditional Japanese love of nature and a Zen-influenced approach to life. Because of him, Joyce’s childhood vacations were spent almost entirely in state and national forests, parks, and beaches, mostly on the West Coast. This resulted in her pervasive love of the natural world, which deeply informs her artwork. Joyce’s brother is a well-known scientist in cell and developmental biology whose work involves not only more traditional experimental techniques, but also direct imaging, often in time-lapse photography, of cellular development and movement.
Yamada’s has long been interested in evolution, the deep history of life on earth, and in ecology—the study of the interrelationships of all components of an environment, including plants, animals, and all physical conditions in both steady state and during upheavals of change. She often references recent scientific findings in her work, including neuroscience as it affects human perception and action, and also uses the findings of our scientist-explorers to provide images of environments such as the deep ocean, which she cannot experience firsthand.
Joyce Yamada did not seek to actively exhibit during her years of radiological work, but since 2006 has exhibited in many New York City venues, including site-specific installations. She has shown work in Boston; Alexandria, Virginia; online through the Sci-Art Initiative; and in Dallas, Texas.
Science is the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world by observation, experimentation, and verification of prior results, without -- so far as is possible -- distortion by culturally instilled prejudices or belief systems. In simple terms, science seeks to understand how the world actually works.
Yamada has a deep love of trees and intact old growth forests, which has been woven into much of her work. It first led to the Truncated Landscapeseries, which is still active, and is the basis of her new paintings, which are inspired by our country’s temperate old growth forests. Becoming aware in the 1980’s of the clear scientific concerns with regard to human overpopulation, climate change, and human destruction of our natural resources, which are impacting all of Earth’s ecologies, an undercurrent of dread and of protest has shadowed much of her past work. Now however that we are clearly in the early stages of violent upheaval of Earth’s natural world due to climate change and human overpopulation, her focus has shifted towards an emphasis on the human as completely, inextricably, interwoven and embedded in natural processes and cycles; towards questioning our attitudes towards nature; and towards celebrating and depicting the remaining wonders of the astonishing and beautiful animals, plants, and ecologies that remain.