Yashua Klos lives on the South Side of Chicago, and that’s not just a piece of biographical information. The neighborhood and all its characteristics and people inform his work in fundamental ways. The racial segregation, the harsh winter winds, and the Black community there are all show up in his collages of human figures merging with, or emerging from, their surroundings.
A New York Times critic predicted that Klos would have a “long and productive career,” and he’s making good on that forecast, earning residencies at prestigious institutions such as the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture and winning distinctions like a Joan Mitchell Fellowship.
In a conversation with Absolut Art, Klos talks about that harsh Chicago wind, the way that his collage signifies the opposite of what you might normally expect, and the way the human figures in his work depict a particular South Side relation to space.
You have a distinctive way of creating artworks from collaged pieces of paper. Can you talk a bit about the way that you use collage as a metaphor?
Often we think of collage as sourced from found material, and therefore, it implies a “resourcefulness” or “remixing.” In my practice, all the source material is from the same hand, so when collaged together, there’s a “fragmentation.” Fragmentation often connotes fragility, which I like when discussing human identity. I find my work to be most compelling when the collaged elements allow us to read both fragility and durability. I’m also trying to use collage here to transcend its paper materiality, and suggest stronger materials in the built world around us.
You’ve also talked about the wind in Chicago as a metaphor. What are some of the meanings that harsh winter winds in that city have for you?
The Chicago wind is notoriously harsh, yet in a way, also life-affirming.
We think of statues and monuments as commemorations to the dead, so wind becomes a way to suggest that there’s life stirring around. Since my works often depict some space between static and animate, I consider the idea of animism, where an African tribal mask becomes a tool to access the spirit world. The sculptural head forms I depict in my work function similarly—to summon life inside of them. In this case, the wind also becomes a reference to breath.
In a video on your website you talk about traditional Japanese landscapes as an inspiration, in terms of the ways that the human figure and the landscape interact. Does that inspiration show in Wind Monument?
In Wind Monument the figure is somehow both affecting and being affected by the wind. I think about those 17th-century Japanese woodcuts where the terrain kind of absorbs the figures in it. My work’s terrain is the South Side of Chicago—a strategically segregated space. Where Japanese woodcuts depict a seamless harmony between nature and humans, I’m more interested in depicting human survival in spite of the space they’ve been marginalized in.