The Art

Unreasonable Lineage

The torn paper fragments in this curious collage by Ray Yoshida appear to represent a collection of something. Thirty-eight irregularly shaped pieces of paper have been carefully arranged and pasted in five rows, loosely increasing in size and shifting form from tier to tier. On the surface of each scrap, quivering lines in felt-tip pen run parallel to one another and make abstract interior shapes where they converge, mimicking the rough contours of the paper. These wiggly stripes in red, yellow, green, blue, and black reveal the artist’s hand and imbue the small drawings with a sense of rhythm and movement. Pale hues in softly rendered crayon create illusionistic depth, with some forms taking on the appearance of miniature landscapes with vaguely terrestrial features. Upon closer examination, it looks as if a blue crayon was turned on its side and rolled across the paper before it was carefully ripped into smaller pieces using a controlled tear. The resulting texture adds an energetic buzz to the collection, as if these specimen teem with life.

The grid-like composition and formal unity of line, color, and shape among the pasted elements could be read as features of a typology. A typological image depicts a grouping of the same kind of object—usually in geometric array—and is used across disciplines to make inferences about an object’s function and meaning. The even spacing and linear baselines in Unreasonable Lineage reflect this structuring device, but exactly what we are looking at remains unclear. Without an environment or sense of scale, one could see mountains just as easily as geodes, assorted licorice bites, developing organisms, or a collection of teeth! Equally evocative and ambiguous is the work’s title, as it suggests both the absence of order (“unreasonable”) and sequential or evolutionary logic (“lineage”). Yoshida enjoyed this kind of wordplay, and would often come up with playful artwork titles that invite wonder and creative guesswork.

The Artist

Ray Kakuo Yoshida was born in 1930 in Kapaa on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, to Japanese parents. He was drafted into the Korean War while attending the University of Hawaii. After his discharge, he earned a bachelor’s degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1953) and a master’s degree in fine arts at Syracuse University (1958). Yoshida joined the SAIC faculty in 1959, and taught there for nearly 40 years. During this time, he helped several generations of artists cultivate their own artistic identities; notably, many of the Chicago Imagists name Yoshida as an influential instructor, mentor, and friend.

Ray Yoshida is perhaps best known for his Comic Book Specimen series. While many of the Imagist artists found inspiration in comic books, Yoshida incorporated them directly into his collages. As his practice evolved, he developed a unique style of painting and drawing that was more abstractly influenced by comics and other commercial ephemera. These works focused on biomorphic and figurative forms in surreal and distorted environments characterized by muted earth tones and implied textures. In the 1970s, Yoshida began to rip up his earlier figure drawings into abstract shapes. He would then draw on the back of the torn pieces and arrange the small shapes into a new composition, as can be seen in Unreasonable Lineage. Within the graduate painting studios at SAIC, a cross-pollination of imagery and ideas among Yoshida and his students further cultivated this experimental approach.

Over the course of his lifetime, Yoshida amassed an impressive collection of art and objects with diverse geographic, cultural, and stylistic origins. The collection included artworks by his students and by self-taught and folk artists, “trash treasures,” textiles, decorative arts, and ceremonial masks and figures. At home, he lived surrounded by these objects, and they heavily informed his art, research, and teaching.

Reflecting on Yoshida’s artistic versatility and influence as an instructor, Jim Nutt wrote, “He had a special knack for getting students to think about the possibilities of their work, encouraging them to experiment from within… Ray was not doctrinaire. Rather he allowed all sorts of things to enter his mind and, as a result, he was constantly having discoveries…”


National Visual Arts Standards

Anchor Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work
Essential Question: How does knowing the contexts histories, and traditions of art forms help us create works of art and design?

Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work
Essential Questions: How do life experiences influence the way you relate to art? How does learning about art impact how we perceive the world? What can we learn from our responses to art?

Anchor Standard 8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work
Essential Questions: How can the viewer “read” a work of art as text? How does knowing and using visual art vocabularies help us understand and interpret works of art?

Key Ideas

  • Use of familiar yet abstract forms to widen interpretive possibilities and encourage active viewer participation
  • Use of repetition and variety to imply action, movement, or change
  • Humor through clever titles and contradictions
  • Compositional design and technical precision used to imply order or classification

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you see when you look at this collage? What makes you say that? What title would you give this work of art? Why?
  2. Imagine that you are an archeologist who has stumbled across this collection of objects. What have you found? What clues of color, line, texture, and shape are you using to make your identification? Do you think they belonged to anyone? Where would be a good permanent home for these objects?
  3. How is this artwork like a puzzle? How is it like a game? How is it like a collection of favorite objects, like shells or marbles? How is it like a flag? How is it like a sales catalog of an inventory? What else can you think of to compare with it?
  4. What determines the boundaries of a collection? How are the collaged pieces in this particular collection similar? How are they different?
  5. Where is your eye drawn first? Where does it go next? Is there a focal point? Why, or why not? One might view this collage from left to right, row by row, as if reading lines of text in a book; alternatively, one might take in the collection as a whole before studying select elements in order of optical allure. How do you “read” this work of art?
  6. In species evolution and human ancestry, “lineage” refers to a sequence of species, each of which is considered to have evolved from its predecessor. In what ways does this collage evoke the idea of evolution, or lineage? Are there rules that govern this sequence? Why or why not? How has the artist suggested motion or movement in this collage?
  7. “Unreasonable” is a word with many definitions. Synonyms include troublesome, illogical, outrageous, difficult, uncooperative, and awkward, among others. Which word would you choose to describe this artwork? Why? How does the title, Unreasonable Lineage, influence your interpretation of the collage?

Vocabulary

  • abstract the quality of not looking lifelike or realistic; in art, imagery that does not represent observed aspects of the world

  • collection a grouping of objects, often gathered for study, comparison, exhibition, or as a hobby

  • composition the placement or arrangement of visual elements in a work of art

  • collage a work of art made by gluing pieces of different materials to a flat surface

  • controlled tear the careful or intentional ripping of paper, cloth, or other material along a desired contour

  • evolution the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form

  • juxtaposition the act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side often to compare or contrast or to create an interesting effect

  • lineage a sequence of species, each of which is considered to have evolved from its predecessor; lineal descent from an ancestor

  • linear arranged in or extending along a straight or nearly straight line; progressing from one stage to another in a single series of steps; sequential

  • sequence a continuous or connected series

  • typology study of, or analysis or classification based on types or categories, especially in archaeology, photography, psychology, or the social sciences