Erin Yoshi is an accomplished and prolific muralist — but that’s just the most visible manifestation of her practice. At heart a community organizer with goals for climate and social justice, Yoshi uses visual art to activate awareness and involvement across inclusive storytelling and global diversity. An earthen and gemstone palette, strong lines, decolonialized surrealism and vibrational symbolism infuse her style — rich visual influences from her ancestors, indigenous culture, and nature. Her visual art is always created in line with her activist projects and in service of stories about placemaking, historical legacy, imagined futures, and solutions for our planet’s peace and health.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
ERIN YOSHI: When I was a kid, I knew that I loved art. I started shooting and developing photography when I was about 7. My mom has an old panasonic manual camera, which she let me tinker with and used developing equipment from a family friend to develop my first photographs.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
My work shines a light on biological and cultural diversity from the wisdom of community elders to the efforts to preserve the natural world. I believe these are of the utmost importance to future generations.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
I have a dream of one day running an arts residency program in a beach community, where I can double as a yoga instructor who rents surf boards. I daydream about how to create this as my retirement plan.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
No, I have never taken an art class. I have strict Asian parents, so it wasn’t an option for me. I instead have an MBA, which ended up coming in handy as an independent arts entrepreneur.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I’m born and raised in Los Angeles. My family is from the San Gabriel Valley (SGV) and Boyle Heights. I was a nomad for many years, but I knew I wanted to end up back in Los Angeles to be close to family. As I was starting a family of my own, I wanted to come home to raise my daughter, so she could grow up around family. So family first, but for the arts, Los Angeles used to be the mural capital of the U.S. and I hope to help it reclaim that title one day.
When was your first show?
I started curating and exhibiting in group exhibitions, when I was a youth in about 1999, but I waited a long time to do a solo exhibition. I admit I was scared. I set the bar too high after watching videos of some of my favorites speak about their first solo exhibition. I luckily had an artist friend tell me to woman up, think of it as a stepping stone, and practice doing solo exhibitions so one day I would be good at it. It was what I needed to hear at that time.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
The Land of WE just launched — an art project tackling climate change and cultural solidarity by re-imagining the world. The project will have murals, billboards, exhibition and an education campaign. The exhibition will be in March 2021. Follow me online for details and activations.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
Two artists who are no longer with us that I would have loved to exhibit with are Frida Kahlo for her vulnerability and honesty, and Jorge Gonzalez Camarena for his originality and technical genius. Living artists who would be a dream to exhibit with are Kara Walker and Ai Weiwei. I really love the concepts behind their work as much as the artwork itself. Their work is powerful and relevant.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
For me music and painting go hand in hand. What I listen to changes all the time. For mural painting, I like upbeat tempos like J Balvin or the classic salsa of the Fania All Stars. For canvas work, if I want to tap into an emotional zone I go more melodic like Alabama Shakes to the Buena Vista Social Club. I grew up with hip hop, so it is something that I listen to regularly.