Hannah Yata's large scale paintings are unbelievably complex and surreal, forming a mythological narrative with enough depth to be thousands of years old. Although influenced by much older concepts and beliefs, Yata's works feel refreshing and new; uniquely her own. In this new interview, Christina Nafziger talks with the artist about the symbols that show up in her paintings, how her upbringing has impacted her practice, and the untamed spirit present throughout her work.
Hannah Yata works with the techniques and materials of the old masters. Her psychedelic wonderlands are whimsical and playful at first but at second glance they burst with resonance and symbolism creating an atmosphere that is both playful and devouring.
Yata’s paintings have become her own story about witnessing a coming of age for women, spirituality, and ecological revolution. Confrontational yet inviting, her figures and nature-based psychedelic language are a trip to inspire the viewer to see the world through new eyes. Yata plays with the mythos and the female form as an extension to nature. She references the story of creation and questions the reality or surreality of the stories that shape our world. Deeply inspired by Paleolithic and Neolithic art, she weaves these motifs and symbols into her work to celebrate the cycles of nature and pagan imagery that have been demonized by society. As our civilization progresses toward an ever-industrialized world, her work is full of nostalgic reverence and admiration to the world that gave us life.
Hannah Yata is half Japanese and half American. She was born in 1989 Douglasville, GA, where she began her artistic career at the early age of 11. In 2012, she received a BFA in drawing and painting from the University of Georgia. Raised by a very devout family, religious imagery saturated her early life. Excommunication followed when she became a young adult. This sudden transition awakened an insatiable desire to discover the world through new eyes. Ideas such as the nature of the universe, the origins of religion, and the significance of the feminine in our consciousness are some of the paramount themes that inspire her work. Her paintings have been published in notable magazines and online sources including Juxtapoz, Hi Fructose, Beautiful Bizarre, and HEY! Magazine. Also, her work has been shown nationally as well as internationally and exhibited in Japan, California, New York, Denmark, and Germany in many galleries and museums.
How did you hone your incredible skill in painting? Did you study art in school?
From an early age, I was always fascinated with animals, painting, and challenging myself to create things from my head. Studying art in college helped with learning the essential tools of light, color, and the basics of rendering. However, a lot of my development came after that. Pouring over works from the old masters and being around other incredible painters helped me to keep pushing myself. I also worked for another artist for a few years. This time allowed me to explore my mind and the financial freedom to create without any deadlines or to paint things that had to sell. In the long hours analyzing and revisiting my work, I found the imagery that spoke to my soul.
Can you tell us about the impact of Paleolithic and Neolithic art on your work?
The most apparent impact on my art has been heavily influenced by the symbolism of shamanism, female figurines, and sacred animals. Various energetic marks made on the bodies, the marriage of human and animal, the connection to the natural world that these ancient pieces of art have implied has inspired me to reweave these patterns into my own imagery and create a world that spoke to these larger forces and universal ideas.
I love that each of your paintings seems to form an entire world! Do you see your paintings as connected by a common narrative or universe?
They are all part of the same universe. The main narrative would be that of this wild energy and untamed spirit in a mysterious world. An unfolding of this polymorphic personality of nature with many faces, many personalities, and a vast array of transforming characters.
You talk about your upbringing in your artist statement. How has your upbringing affected or influenced your practice?
I grew up in a highly controlled and religious family where women’s sexuality and freedom to express oneself was highly suppressed. As I matured and recognized how women were objectified, demonized, and dehumanized by my old religion and society I wanted to take these uncomfortable issues and channel them into an artistic dialogue. One of the significant ways I found my voice was through the body. Through this vessel I began by creating a world where feminine nudity and sexuality felt free, unashamed, celebrated, and powerful.
Can you talk about the mythical/mystical iconography that is present in your work?
The archetypal aspects of my work are influenced by a broad range of myths that ultimately speak to deeper origins of feminine consciousness: some of them being the devouring mother, the creative and transformative forces. We as humans have always sought meaning, and nature has been our mirror through which we have been able to transform and evolve. I think one of my favorite mythical pieces that I have woven into my work has been that of the snake. In the ancient world, she was revered as the totemic form of the Great Mother, as primal energy, and the personification of the divine feminine. We in the western world probably know the story of Eve, the serpent, and the fall of mankind and primarily associate this animal with the Devil. Yet, it’s fascinating to see the older symbolic power they represent: as guardian and protector, healing and immortality, wisdom and initiator. I think of icons like this as repairing and remembering lost parts of ourselves and embracing the fullness of who we are.
What are you currently listening to or reading?
"Untamed" by Glennon Doyle.