Ray Yoshida (BFA 1953) was an alum, educator, and key influence on the Chicago Imagists.
Ray Yoshida (1930–2009), painter and collagist at the forefront of the oddball Chicago Imagist movement, was an alum (BFA 1953) and influential instructor at SAIC for nearly four decades, from 1959 to 2005.
Yoshida first gained attention for his series of collages that combined small cut images found in comics and folklore with his own peculiar wit through meticulous assemblage into clean grid–like compositions. As he matured as an artist, Yoshida added painting to his repertoire, often depicting distorted and stylized, sometimes psychedelic, figures in varying situations or landscapes. In the 1990s, he returned to his collages. Whatever the medium, Yoshida was consistently praised for his emotive and inventive use of color and humor.
Yoshida studied art at the University of Hawaii in his home state, but before he could graduate he was drafted into the Korean War. After his service he moved to Chicago (where his sister lived), resumed his studies, and graduated from SAIC before going on to receive an MFA from Syracuse University. One year later, he returned to SAIC as a teacher where he remained until 2005.
By all accounts a witty, mysterious, and excellent instructor, Yoshida taught and mentored an impressive bill of students over the decades, perhaps most notably those who made up the surreal Chicago Imagist school, including Jim Nutt, Roger Brown, Ed Paschke, and Christina Ramberg, among many others. Many of his students who found great success as artists dedicated their work to him and even named paintings after him.
Throughout his career, Yoshida showed his work nationally at prestigious institutions and he continues to be honored with retrospectives, including the Touch and Go: Ray Yoshida and his Spheres of Influence at SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries in 2010–11. He was regularly featured at the Phyllis Kind Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the Art Institute of Chicago, and his work can still be found in their collections, as well as in those of the Hawaii State Art Museum and the National Museum of American Art in Washington.
John Corbett, SAIC faculty, curator, and cofounder of Corbett vs. Dempsey gallery, notes in the catalogue for Tough and Go, “Ray Yoshida’s career is an integral storyline in Chicago art. Yoshida was encouraged by his professors to ‘do his own thing,’ to search for what it was that made him tick, rather than follow the path of a movement or group. In turn, that’s how Yoshida advised his pupils. This is a classic part of the Chicago sensibility: to push yourself and develop your own unique identity. Although the Imagists—many of whom studied with Yoshida—were exhibited as groups such as The Hairy Who?, The False Image, and The Non-Plussed Some, they were composed of fiercely individualistic artists. This is part of Yoshida’s legacy and an aspect that the show seeks to convey.”