Artist Yuko Yabuki Unleashes "Heaven, Hell & the Earth" at OP-tic on Friday the 13th

Most artists would be biting off more than they could chew with a solo exhibition titled "Heaven, Hell & the Earth," but painter Yuko Yabuki seems to have it covered.

The series, which will be unveiled tonight at downtown Phoenix's OP-tic, is part retrospective, with pieces dating back from 2003 to last year, shown alongside two brand new paintings. Yabuki explains that the themes she was working with in these large-scale pieces went through cycles: first hellish, then heavenly, finally settling on something more earthly in between.

"Some people prefer hell or heaven [imagery], but I don't think one is better," she says. "Hell isn't bad to me. If you're having a hard time, or your life is bad, you feel like it's hell, but it really means you need discipline to get through it."

The result of Yabuki's discipline is a sweeping exploration of duality that taps a diverse pool of influences, flowing from Japanese mythology to tattoo art to "modern computer music," as she puts it (a la NONCOMMUNICATION, who will provide live music for the exhibition's opening night).

"Peace cannot exist without war; heaven can't exist without hell," Yabuki says casually. "Opposites create each other. They create a whole world, and it's Earth."

This is far from Yabuki's first show at OP-tic (formerly known as CHEMlab Art Space); the list includes a collab benefit show called "Phoenix Radiation Experiment 1.0" last year with Margaret Bruning. The artist says her cultural tastes match those of David Therrien and others involved in OP-tic.

"I like their international-ness," she says. "I don't have to feel I'm a foreigner too much."
Yabuki, who is Japanese but has spent most of the past 12 years in Phoenix, says she wasn't interested in her own culture at first, but while in America, "the people were around me were all tattoo artists," she says. They're not fine artists, but they're artists. And they were into Japanese traditional styles. So I think I learned Japanese art from tattoo artists in America."

From her time in Phoenix, Yabuki says she has also learned not to throw an art opening on First Friday.

"I love First Friday, but it just frustrates me, because it seems like everyone's doing things at once," she says. "I want to see everyone else's shows; I'm not ignorant to other artists. So I just waited one week after."

It doesn't hurt that her show opens on Friday the 13th, an ambiguous choice for a show that blends imagery of Heaven and Hell. But Yabuki raises more questions than she answers.

"I like the number, you know? And people have an image of [Friday the 13th] already, so it's up to the audience how they recognize this day."

Join Yuko Yabuki as she drops the existential hammer on Phoenix at the opening for "Heaven, Hell & the Earth" this Friday, April 13, from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. at OP-tic, 817 W. Madison Street.

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Tye Rabens