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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Worth His Salt

Salt, in Latin, was known as salarium. Back in the Roman times, a Roman soldier was paid in salt, which was then traded for coins.

It was said that if a soldier didn't earn his pay, 'he didn't earn his salt.'

Yup... that's the origin of that old phrase. I must freely admit that I learned that from an old Uncle Scrooge comic book published by Gold Key comics some 45 years ago in 1967... which was based on a cartoon - all called Uncle Scrooge and Money.   

Let's take a look at one Yamamoto Motoi (surname first), a Japanese artist who certainly IS worth his salt. In fact, salt is his medium of choice in creating surreal looking artwork that takes 100s of hours to create - and then, with the help of an audience, destroys it.

Born in Onomichi-shi (City of Onomichi), Hiroshima-ken (Hiroshima Prefecture) in 1966, at the age of 24, Yamamoto's younger sister died of brain cancer - a fact that would devastate anyone. To cope, he began creating large memorials using salt as a material that would soon become his signature style.    

Two years earlier, Yamamoto was working at a dockyard, quit and decided to pursue full time a career in the arts, attending the prestigious Kanazawa College of Art.

The circle of life and death is an important element to Yamamoto's art style. He pours/places salt over a gallery floor, carving his art into intricate patterns... spending 100s of hours making it look exactly so... with many of his pieces FLAT organic-looking cell-like forms... with other's having a 3D shape... architectural in form or maze-like structures.

“Drawing a labyrinth with salt is like following a trace of my memory,” says Yamamoto.

And as all memory is fleeting, Yamamoto's artwork is short-lived. At the end of each gallery showing, he sweeps away his thoughts/art and returns the salt to the sea.

Well-known around the world, Yamamoto is not as recognized in the U.S... but that should change...

Return To The Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto will be on display at the Laband Art Gallery in Los Angeles, California between September 8 and December 8, 2012.

For his exhibition, Yamamoto will re-create his Return To The Sea salt-scape (see photo at the very top) at an on-site installation in the gallery. Also on display will be salt drawings and photographs as well as a video documenting his installation process of his salt-scapes.

For the viewing public, you can attend the gallery BEFORE the opening... on August 29-31 and again on September 4-6 - open houses - held between 12 Noon and 4PM, where one can watch him re-create his epic Return to the sea.

And, in keeping with his tradition... you can come full circle and return to the gallery on December 8, 2012 and help destroy the art... 

Laband Art Gallery is located at Loyola Marymount University:
1 LMU Drive MS8346
Los Angeles, CA 90045
t. (310) 338-2880
t. (310) 338-3087
Contact Arden Sherman via e-mail:

For a look at Miyamoto's own website, click here: SALARIUM.

Andrew Joseph

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