Interview with Shu Yamamoto

We are very excited to have Shu Yamamoto’s fun, colorful, and exciting exhibit Fine Art of Feline Art (an art historical adventure) at The St. George Art Museum to kick off our Twenty Year Celebration at our current location.


Shu Yamamoto was born in Yokohama, Japan and graduated with his BA in industrial design from the Aichi Prefectural University of Art and Music. In 1973 he moved to Canada and worked a freelance illustrator. After 10 years of living in Canada he then moved to Utah where he is currently located. We had the delight to ask Shu Yamamoto some questions about himself and his artwork to share with our visitors and readers.
How did you first get into art? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
My mother was a graphic designer, so I guess I got influence from her.  My parents both worked full time – it was not as common as today in my generation – and I was an only child and so often I was given paper and pencil for doodling to occupy time.  (My grandma was there to watch me.)  That may contribute to develop art skill.
Who are your artistic inspirations?
I had the chance to see American magazines and these days (1950’s and 60’s) they were full of realistic illustrations on both advertisement and editorial.  I was amazed and wondered at the level of reality created by brushes and paints.  So I didn’t have any specific artist that I received inspirations from but American illustration in general of that era.  Much later I came to know some of these illustrators’ names such as Jon Whitcomb, George Petty and Al Parker.
What does your collection of Fine Art of Feline Art mean to you?
I like paintings and I like cats and in “Fine Art of Feline Art” these two elements merge in one. This project only started 10 years ago when I reached 60.  It was few years after all four children left home and financial burden of supporting them was behind of me.  My wife and I became so called “Empty Nesters” and had more free time.  So I decided to start this project of “Catrizing” old masters’ masterpieces.  Nobody commissioned me to do that so it was no income generating work, and I did not sell finished pieces just in case when these paintings became popular.
Why do you think cats are such wonderful creatures?
No explanation necessary I think – if you look at a cat it is obvious isn’t it?  Big clear eyes emitting light of intelligence.  Tightly shut mouth tells us of their serious nature and wisdom they posses within themselves.  Cats are very photogenic – often more so than even human female.  So when I replace human with cat in old masterpieces, it often enhances rather than worsen.  I don’t want to make enemies, and I don’t get sued so I don’t want to mention the name of this other popular house pet.  But imagine for example, Mona Lisa was replaced with this pet – often sagging eyes, black noses, mouth half open and tongue hanging from it – it would be disastrous!  If I do that there is no doubt that I would get sued by Leonardo.
Do you have any cats of your own?
I have two: Molly and Neko.  I met Molly on one cold winter day when my wife and I went shopping.  She was probably 3 months old or so.  When I picked her up and held in my arm, she had kept purring for forever.  I got Neko from my daughter who lives in Washington DC area.  She got Neko from the shelter for her children.  But Neko was not 100% toilet trained so when my wife and I visited my daughter’s family several years ago, she asked us if we want to take Neko home with us, otherwise Neko would be taken back to the animal shelter.  Even though Neko was not given seat of her own and didn’t get a peanut nor cats treat on board, it cost us $350 to get Neko on the flight from DC with us.
Do you personally have a favorite painting in your collection?
Recently I did cat versions of Mucha works including his “Slav Epic”, and I like these because these are more complex murals rather than a small painting.  The Slav Epic consists of 20 paintings and it depicts 20 major historical events of Slavic people including some battle scenes.  It is OK for me to see human lying dead on paintings – it is sad but part of reality of war.   But it is unimaginable and a hundred more times horrible to see cats lying dead, so I didn’t do battle scenes.
Is there is any other fun information you would like for us and our readers to know about yourself and/or your work?
This is nothing to do with visual art nor cats so I don’t know if it is appropriate for this forum but I am enthusiastic fan of Miklos Rozsa’s film music and I enjoy playing his music on piano as a hobby player.
My dentist gave me two choices on my bad tooth.  (1) Extraction – which cost me $70 and give me a gap between teeth    (2) Implant – which cost me $400 and nice looks.  Being money conscious, I picked choice #1.  So I have 2,3 missing teeth.   When Neko was run over by a car shortly after we brought home from DC three years ago, the vet gave me three choices: (1) put to sleep ($70)  (2) amputation ($200)  (3) operation ($7,000)   Do I really have a choice?  I hesitate to spend $400 on my own tooth, but no hesitation to spend $7000 on Neko for recovery.  Consequently I still have gaps on my teeth!  (ha ha)
— Shu Yamamoto
If you are interested in learning more about our current exhibited artists and/or local artists in our area please join for our monthly Art Conversations held every third Thursday at 7pm, admission is also free! Next Art Conversation: Thursday, March 23rd. Twila Abrams of our local Pottery Avenue Cottage. Twila will be discussing polish pottery.  

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