Artist Aki Yamamoto and her son Kai during the opening of A Forest Falls at the Station House Gallery May 3. The two stand beside a carving Yamamoto created using a piece of pine beetle affected wood. Her show runs at the gallery throughout the month of May.

Artist reflects on the falling forest

The upstairs exhibit space at the Station House Gallery is hosting a unique and first solo art show of pieces created by Aki Yamamoto.

The upstairs exhibit space at the Station House Gallery is hosting a unique and first solo art show of pieces created by Aki Yamamoto during May.

A resident of the bush on the edge of Chilcotin country, the Japanese-born artist says her show, A Forest Falls, is a reflection on the fact that the area’s forests are in decline.

“Trees have been dying all around us and falling over, and there has been lots of logging. When they log, they leave small stands and the trees just fall over. We’ve been up for 15 years and this show is a slice of that experience.”

Pointing to two carved pieces where fetal-positioned figures are enveloped inside, surrounded by the dark markings made by pine beetle near the bark, Yamamoto explains when her husband, Scott, was collecting firewood last fall, and cut the pine-beetle kill trees into fire logs, they revealed interesting markings.

“He cut some slabs and we knew we wanted to make something. The more I looked at them I could see the figures in the pattern. I sanded them and carved them.”

Yamamoto also produces woodblock oil monoprints, mostly carved out of beetle wood.

The show features some of her woodblocks, and the prints she makes with them using oil paint.

One woodblock depicts a figure riding on a dragonfly.

When asked what the piece represents, Yamamoto smiles, pushes her glasses up from her nose, and says, “me,” with a shrug.

“It’s how I feel sometimes,” she adds.

A tiny collection of whimsical pieces, about six by four inches in size each, incorporate real mosquitoes.

There were a lot of mosquitoes last summer, she explains. “All I had to do was sit outside with a book and they’d land on the book and I’d shut the book.”

Next to the “bug art” are some ink and water-colour sketches — one contains a friendly looking moose.

It’s nice to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

Yamamoto emigrated with her family to Vancouver from Japan when she was one year old.  She grew up in the suburbs of B.C. and attended the University of British Columbia.  After graduation she taught English in Japan, pretty normal stuff for a young Canadian, she says.

She also travelled through Southeast Asia, hiking in New Zealand, and woofing on sheep farms in Australia. Making good friends.

Upon her return to Canada, after seeing how others lived in a simpler way, she decided to break from tradition and went back to school where she attended Emily Carr and studied printmaking, photography and sculpture.

Nagging in the back of her mind was living a simpler way, so in 1997 she sold everything she owned and together with her partner moved up to the Chilcotin, where she learned first hand the ways of survival.

These days she and her husband make tools and knives, under their business Cariboo Blades Tools and Knives, that they sell all over the world.

“We make hunting knives and carving tools. It’s all custom work. We just sent a set of carving tools to a customer in Spain.

“Most of our customers are in the U.S., but we have some in Canada, Australia and Greece,” she says, adding she still finds it pretty amazing that’s how they earn a livelihood.

The couple and their nine-year-old son Kai rely totally on solar. Naturally the business slows in the winter so it’s a good time to create art.

“I spent the winter thinking about this show. By last fall I knew the gallery had accepted my proposal so I had some time to prepare,” she says.

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