Ido Yoshimoto

Point Reyes CA, sculptor // July 2011
I keep getting the feeling I am making a shrine but it never starts out that way. I like to have a part in every step, from felling and milling a tree to mixing bees wax, turpentine, oils and pigments for stains and finishes. I’m even trying to keep the bees but haven’t caught a queen yet.

As Klea and I headed out to West Marin early in the morning to meet Ido at his Inverness home and studio we excitedly discussed how ready we were to get out of the city and come upon a bit of adventure. The roads to Ido’s place cut through a beautiful and rambling landscape of hills, coastal pastures, and oak woodlands. We drove slowly along the last sun-dappled stretch, lingering beneath the canopy of trees, taking it all in before finally arriving at the top of Ido’s driveway. He welcomed us with a wave and a bright flash of teeth as we came down the gravel driveway to meet him. He brought us to his deck to check out the spectacular view and offered up a plate of freshly made scones from his wife’s bakery. After a bit of chatter and a few bites of the delicious scones, Ido took us out to his studio, which at some point used to be a shed and/or garage. It’s a large space with windows that let some natural light in, and though it’s detached from Ido’s house, it’s just a few steps away. It’s chock-full of things to puzzle over and marvel at— there are assorted filing cabinets everywhere, wooden boxes labeled for things like brushes and sandpaper, old-fashioned beeswax finishes, wild animal bones, and a serious collection of vintage tools. As I considered the sprawl of cobwebs across the windows and the fairly well preserved raccoon carcass resting up on a ledge, Ido brought out a little chest of drawers to show us a few of his many treasures. Each drawer revealed an array of objects that Ido had found while out at the beach or in the woods— things like rodent skulls, Japanese glass fishing floats that made their way to the California coastline, Miwok Indian arrowheads, and even a tiny porcelain figurine. As Ido talked about his finds, these inanimate real-world objects began to stir and move across my imagination, as if brought to life by the sudden beat of a wild and mythical heart. Ido breathes new life into the objects and materials he finds and works with. He revels in the natural world at work, always looking for ways to explore the story of a hawk’s feather on the forest floor or a lifeless bobcat on the side of the road, and to then artistically render that story with his own hands.

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
I’m an arborist, artist, and I like to tinker.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
Yes, I do tree work, which I love. I get to be outdoors, climb trees, use big tools and trucks and get dirty. A country kids dream job, right? I am in the forest most of the day where I get much of my inspiration as well as where I find materials to work with. I also work in my wife’s bakery whenever I am needed.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
I mostly use salvaged materials like wood, bone, metal— things that have been made unique with time. I think the story is important. I am really fascinated with things that happen slowly and naturally that cannot be recreated, like rot, rust, weathering, as well as growth. Right now it seems that my work is gravitating towards this theme. Its hard to even call it “my” work sometimes because it has already happened… like the back of a maul that has over the course of a hundred years struck a wedge thousands of times until the steel has mushroomed, or a bone that has been sculpted by rodents chewing on it for its calcium, or the trunk of a tree that has bent and twisted to brace itself against the northwesterlies. Sometimes I look at an object and I see life, growth, struggle, death, the intertwining of stories. I keep getting the feeling I am making a shrine but it never starts out that way. I like to have a part in every step, from felling and milling a tree to mixing bees wax, turpentine, oils and pigments for stains and finishes. I’m even trying to keep the bees but haven’t caught a queen yet. It’s all very grounding and honors the material.

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I just finished John Vaillant’s The Golden Spruce and am now reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. I like non-fiction. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of ambient/instrumental hip-hop. I like broken, disjointed beats, like DJ Krush, DJ Shadow, and Aphex Twin. I’m not a fan of words when I’m working. One of the things that really lights a fire under my ass is visiting the shop of my friend and neighbor John, who must be in his sixties and still drives his first car, which is covered in surface rust and lichen. He’s the kind of guy that makes tools to make yet another tool, all while using his father’s old tools. His shop is like a museum.

What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them? How do you navigate the art world?
Time is always a huge challenge, getting solid chunks of it is the trickiest. I feel lucky to get the time that I do, but I think up and obsess over more projects than I’ll ever be able to accomplish. There are a lot of late nights in the studio… and tired mornings. Defining art for myself is another thing that is hard for me. I struggle to determine whether the work I make is art or not. It’s not something I can completely grasp so it’s difficult to apply to my work. Just keeping at it is what happens, not because I should, but because I have to. You can’t stop. Does that even make sense? Dang. As far as the art world goes, I get a lot of support from my friends and family telling me to “check out this artist” or “you should apply for that.” I never went to school so I take whatever tips and advice I can get. I have a few close friends deep in the art world that are extremely generous with their time and advice. I’m really lucky to have those connections.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
It’s a little world I can bounce off myself in. All my influences are around me, and my tools and materials are at arms reach. I can spread out, leave things where they are and come back to them. I can get distracted and then stand back and look at it all around me and make sense of it. It’s a mess but it works. Sometimes I start a project, make one cut, and spend the rest of the night fiddling with the shelf the saw sits on or something like that. This can be a problem for me. But I do love working on the shop as well as in it. Shop, studio— same difference.

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you’re making now? Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
We just moved here less than two years ago so having this indoor space has been a big change. I had more of a wood lot at the other house, which was great for carving and milling, and storing slabs and logs. I still use that space for larger projects. So being here, the scale of my work has shrunk. I’ve also been more prolific. Like I said, I can spread out now. Before, it took 20 minutes to pull my tools out on the deck and 20 to put them away. With an hour here and there to work, it was a joke. Autobiographical? Yeah, in some ways isn’t everyone’s? No, I guess not. I’d like to look back in ten years and answer that. I hope it is.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I’ve been doing some commissions, creating very personal pieces. Most recently, commemorating the birth of a friend’s child, and another one honoring the life of a man who passed away. I’ll do a little research, find a meaningful and personal bit of material or artifact and tie it into a piece of art for the family. Also, I’ve got all this old beveled glass to make shadow boxes with and lots of really cool stuff to display in them. I’m excited to bring these treasures out into the light. I’ve also got some beautiful black acacia and silver birch logs sitting there, waiting for the chainsaw. Oh, I may get the chance to work with my father on a project for an artist whom has been hugely inspirational to me. The project will be to install a ships chandler, stocked and historically authentic, at the port of Los Angeles. A memento of the ports past.

What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of doing new things. I think a lot of times people don’t do something because they haven’t done it before. I’m also so proud of my 6-year-old daughter who is already an amazing artist and who’s pure and fearless creative energy never stops dropping my jaw. Her open eyes and open mind have helped me open mine. She is an honest critic as well.

What do you want your work to do?
I would like my work to blur the lines between science, history, and art, and to turn the commonplace into something fascinating and extraordinary. I’d like to inspire wonder at life’s strange stories, and to perpetuate the ‘be inspired, create, inspire’ circle. I would also like my work to evolve, keep me on my toes…. and maybe someday, pay the rent.

What advice has influenced you?
The advice of my wife Celine and daughter Naima always keeps me on the right path, especially when I’m freaking out.

How will you know when you have arrived?
It’s the journey that matters— the process, the doing and the making and the evolving.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
I’m trying to create a body of work right now. I had my first real show in December and sold almost everything so I’m kind of back to square one. I will keep you updated.

To see more of Ido’s work: