Carrie Yamaoka, Aquamarine, 1997, mylar, pigment, and epoxy resin on wood panel, 12 × 9 inches. Courtesy of Debs & Co.
When Carrie Yamaoka makes her mirrorlike paintings she simultaneously gives up control and seizes it. She imprints her vision on everything that will be reflected in them: strangers combing their hair, making faces, making eye contact with one another … . Like English artist Liam Gillick’s plexiglass overhangs, or Paula Hayes’s garden pieces, Yamaoka’s art creates situations in which we, the viewer, may play, and that play becomes an essential element of the work.
Yet these are not perfect mirrors, and Yamaoka’s low-fi fabrication with layers of colored mylar under thick resin creates exquisite distortions. Where the mylar bubbles the whole room is reflected whole again within the larger reflection, creating a bug’s eye image of the viewer’s face multiplied a hundred times. In some paintings, the room seems to be filled with gray London fogginess, and when a strong light is directed toward them, colored lights fall to the ground like shimmering waterfalls.
When I saw these works in her studio, presented one at a time, I noticed that my attention shifted. As each was hung I saw reflected in them the others recently stacked behind me. To see one of Yamaoka’s paintings reflected in another, reflecting another, each of their distorting effects multiplied by the other makes focusing on one impossible. If we understand painting’s formal history in terms of how the eye travels around within a canvas, here our vision has been invited to fly around real space, flitting like a butterfly. This is a delicate art, whose near invisibility makes the irresistibility of its effects all the more stunning.