After receiving her BFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York in 2017 and her MFA from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, New Jersey in 2019, Hiroka Yamashita (born in 1991 in Hyogo, Japan) is currently based in Okayama, Japan. Having set up her studio in a former pharmacy, Yamashita creates paintings by combining scenes from daily life and visions in an animistic way, focusing on the spiritual dimension of the natural world. Many of her compositions seem gently surreal, such as the ascending Field (Tōge) (2022) in which embracing human figures soar above a forest, against a torched sky. The artist nurtures scenes by spontaneously applying colours on canvas, allowing human figures and natural forms to emerge over time; in the process, she may cover or transform one thing into another, leaving the initial forms and brushstrokes visible. Via this gesture of intuitive accumulation that lays bare incompatible, abrupt developments, Yamashita’s compositions grow into ambiguously structured, morphing entities.

Yamashita contends that, as dreamy and improbable as the paintings may appear, they are realistic and faithful to what she sees. From the flat and fast Snow on Fingers (2022), to the absorbing, whirling Field (Body) (2022), they are truthful in terms of both colour and form. She also speaks of this truthfulness in relation to her interest in physics and the idea of a field, deeming it meaningful to de-associate truthfulness from what meets the eye.

Although human figures — inexpressive as a number of Pierre Bonnard’s characters are — appear frequently in Yamashita’s paintings, she is deeply interested in developing a high degree of abstraction, wedding the representational with the utterly abstract. Recent paintings such as Field (Blue and Green) (2022) and Field (Surface II) (2022) are exemplary in this respect: they are both depictions of expansive landscapes, independent from human presence or narratives. It is also the case with the mysterious Force (Two Tips) (2022) and the no less enigmatic Hole (2022); Yamashita cheerfully refuses to identify what is exactly portrayed in the two paintings, leaving the right to interpretation to the viewer.

On the other hand, as an artist who has received rigorous training in Japanese calligraphy, Yamashita actively examines the significance of traditional Japanese art and literature. She refers time and again to Matsuo Bashō’s (1644-1694) haiku (particularly his masterpiece Oku no Hosomichi, or The Narrow Road to the Deep North), and Azuchi–Momoyama period painter Hasegawa Tōhaku’s (1539-1610) traditional paintings. Yamashita’s disproportionately wide painting Field (Persimmon Tree Sprout) (2022) is a recent attempt at making scrolls, and at incorporating motifs favoured by masters of traditional Japanese art. In the centre of the sparse composition is a persimmon tree — based on the distinctly regional plant Yamashita grows in her own garden — acting as either a screen or a ward, separating a human figure from a collective that seems ambiguously intimidating. Grafting concerns for humankind’s fate onto extraordinary visions, Yamashita presents pictures that are at once soothing and ominous.

Hiroka Yamashita (born in 1991 in Hyogo, Japan) lives and works in Okayama. She received her BFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York in 2017 and her MFA from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, New Jersey in 2019. Recent solo exhibitions include: ‘Fūdo’, Tanya Leighton, Berlin (2022); ‘project N 84’, Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery (2021); ‘Cosmos Remembered’, The Club, Tokyo (2021); and ‘Evanescent Horizon’ (with Naoya Inose), FOMO Art, Taipei (2021). Her work has been included in recent group exhibitions: ‘Their private worlds contained the memory of a painting that had shapes as reassuring as the uncanny footage of a sonogram’, curated by Sedrick Chisom, Matthew Brown Gallery, Los Angeles (2022); ‘Dancing in Dark Times’, Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London (2021); and ‘Daichi Takagi, Lucía Vidales, Hiroka Yamashita’, Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo (2020), among others.