YuYu interview Yumi Climenson

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When were you first attracted to painting ?

On my mother’s side of the family we have a long line artists. My grandparents and mother were watercolor artists. That definitely influenced me. Even before I could read and write I was the kind of kid drawing on the streets with chalk and I was on the path to drawing. As I grew up, I always loved drawing and I remember spending hours and hours losing myself in my painting. After I started Seikei Gakuen Jr. High School I joined the art club. I can remember my mother taking me to the Van Gogh exhibition being held in the Ueno Royal Museum. Even now, I can still remember very clearly how impressed I was with his “Cafe Terrace at Night” depicting the beauty of the night at Arles. I was overwhelmed by his delicate use of color. You could feel his soul through the colors. It was mesmerizing … I must have stared at it for more than 30 minutes. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to become an oil painter. By the time I entered high school I was even more determined to pursue this career. I studied oil painting from Mr. Hiroshi Narui, the Director of Nikikai, and studied watercolors under Master Ukai Uchiyama, well known in Europe and the US, for his Chinese ink painting.


—— Why did you come here to the US to study painting and not Europe?

At that time in Japan there were many opportunities to see and appreciate European works of art, but far less chances to see US exhibitions. Soon after I graduated the thought of traveling to the US to see authentic American works of art with my own eyes grew stronger and stronger. My father was exasperated when I told him and he forbade me to go. At that time, a woman’s place was in the home raising a family. But after numerous attempts to persuade him he finally agreed to let me go to San Francisco, because he had a friend there. I had a chance to attend UC Berkley, but because they didn’t have classes in abstract art I chose the Acadamy of Fine Arts in San Francisco, where I studied all the various painting techniques I needed.


—— So you followed your own mind and steadily created your own life as an artist. Are things going the way you planned ?

2_1.jpg In my life I‘ve received so much help from others. While I was in San Francisco I met someone, got married, had a family and then became so busy raising my children that I didn’t have time for painting anymore. Then one Christmas my husband gave me a new paint set. Because of that gift I had the chance to start painting again. Then in 1972, due to my husband’s job transfer we came to San Diego. The timing was good, I had a private exhibition and it received some TV attention. Due to that coverage I was able to start selling some of my work. Unfortunately, my marriage wasn’t going as well…and we separated. By then I was supporting myself and since I worked at home I had enough time to spend with my children. So I’m very thankful to have had painting to turn to…and thankful that my ex-husband gave me another chance at painting.


—— Is there some guiding force behind your painting?

By chance, in 1982 I had the opportunity to move to Holland for three years, the birthplace of Van Gogh, my inspiration. The path my painting career took was guided by this experience. As a plein painter I had already been receiving some recognition, but for some reason even though I was in Holland with its breathtaking scenery I didn’t feel I was capturing its essence well, so I stopped painting for a while. Then one day as I looked at the sky observing its beauty and soft fluffy clouds, I felt my spirit being cleansed. And suddenly it hit me … until then I only viewed sights and scenes with my eyes but from that time on I learned to feel them with my heart. The most important thing is to feel the essence of nature strongly through your heart. That’s when I learned to see beauty in the most difficult of situations and was surprised by the abundance all around us. What is important in nature and life is important in painting as well. The way I look at painting and the way I paint I learned from nature. I realized that being myself and being natural is the easiest way to be. If you can do that then your life can become the life you really want to live.


—— So after that you came back to San Diego again?

I had a car accident in Holland and to take care of myself I thought it would be a good idea to go to Spain because of the warm weather, but instead I came back to SD where my kids were. Also, since the United States is filled with cheerful, forward thinking, adventurous people, living here suits my personality very well. My life has been guided by my parents, whom I love and respect with all my heart. They always taught me to be happy and cheerful, and to move forward…they used to tell me to have a purpose in life. So living in the US never felt strange to me. Besides that, here I ’m learning about the spirit of volunteerism from Americans and I’m thankful to be living here in San Diego.


—— I heard that you received an official commendation from the City of La Mesa.

2_2.jpg I have had many good opportunities and got to this point in my life with a lot of help from others. John Hooper, who was the President and founder of the La Jolla Art Association in San Diego, helped me quite a bit. Even though I was relatively inexperienced, thanks to his help I received a fair amount of recognition as a plein air painter. Since 1986 I have held a private exhibition of my work every year in “Gallery 21” in the Spanish Village of Balboa Park. Then, one day in 1997 the City of La Mesa asked me to be an instructor for them, but I told them I didn’t think I was qualified, so I refused their offer. They wouldn’t take no for an answer so I agreed to teach one class for their adult school. After I made that decision, my father told me ”You have to be thankful to receive such a request and you can’t refuse it. This is your chance to say thank you to San Diego.” I had been teaching adult classes for them for 4 years and the number of classes had grown to three. I felt like I learned more from my students than they learned from me. Everyday was rewarding and I grew. Anyway, on the last day of class several gentlemen, wearing suits, entered the classroom and suddenly handed me the “Key to the City.” Apparently, I was the only one who didn’t know what was going on and I was puzzled. All of my students knew that I was going to receive that award. They even prepared a potluck party. It was a true honor and I was deeply moved by it.


—— What do you try express through your paintings?

I can’t convey the same accuracy as a photograph…my paintings are different. The message of my work is filled with hope and I always try to communicate that to my audience… this is my underlying goal. Nature has different faces, sometimes harsh, sometimes stable and sometimes its beautiful…the same as life. Sometimes we feel sad or have a tough time but there is always hope. I want to share that hope with as many people as I can. As long as I live, I want to keep communicating with nature and people by continuing to paint the beauty of nature in the world. That’s the message I want to send to everyone. I’m lucky that all I need is an easel to send out that message as an artist. The more I know about the secrets of nature, the more I realize there is to know and to grow as a person and as a painter. Simplicity in nature and in life is the key to successful living as well as painting. This kind of thinking is like a no side-effect vitamin, giving me the energy to continue painting. I want to thank everyone for the support and encouragement I’ve received in this country and San Diego. I hope that someday I can return all of this…


Yumi Climenson ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

Yumi was born on October 26, 1940 in Tokyo and is the oldest of four sisters. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Keio University in 1963 and graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in San Francisco in 1966. She has lived in San Diego since 1972. Yumi received First Place at the International Fine Arts Exhibition in San Diego in 1981 and the Aaron Brothers Award in 1994, and served as President of the La Jolla Art Association from 1996 to 1997. She was awarded the Key to the City of La Mesa in 2001. She has one son and two daughters and currently lives by herself in La Mesa. Her hobbies include reading (mostly biographies of artists) and playing guitar and keyboard. You can see her work at www.yumi-art.com

(9-1-2002 issue)