Yvonne Wakabayashi (née Tasaka) was born in Vancouver in 1938 and spent her early childhood years during internment with her family in the tiny rural communities of Blind Bay and Notch Hill, British Columbia. Returning to Vancouver after the war, she continued her education which led to a Bachelor and Master degree in Education with a focus on art. She spent many years as a teacher and subsequently taught at Capilano University in the Textile Art Department and the University College of the Fraser Valley in the Fashion Design Department.
Over the years, Yvonne has earned her place as an internationally renowned artist. Her work is greatly influenced by both her recent and ancient heritage. She blends new ideas and processes from her life’s experiences with the ancient cultural traditions of her Japanese ancestry. An important inspiration that permeates her art is a strong sense of family that she says, “…anchors and comforts me….”
A powerful family influence in Yvonne’s life and art was her mother, Ayame, whose family were neighbors in the ancestral Tasaka home in Japan. Ayame came to Canada as a bride and introduced Japanese culture and design into home life. Ayame was trained and skilled in traditional Japanese arts such as flower arranging (Ikebana) and the tea ceremony (Chanoyu). So at an early age Yvonne was influenced by the importance and value of arts in everyday life.
Yvonne’s path to artistic success began in 1983 when she attended a workshop with Hiroyuki Shindo, a Japanese Indigo Master and a contemporary shibori artist. Shortly after, Yvonne visited Arimatsu where arashi shibori and indigo-dyed cotton for kimonos have been developed for centuries. Combined with the use of crisp, raw silk produced by a small family mill in Japan’s Gunma Prefecture she has been able to manipulate and sculpt shibori pleats into wall pieces and artwear. It is truly a merging of what she learned about these ancient methods with her Western art education and experiences.
The popularity of Yvonne’s art is rooted in this blending of ancient Japanese processes and materials with modern materials and themes. The ocean is never far away as her family’s ancestral home in Japan and the Canadian west coast where she now resides inspires her work. Sea life forms and images are a staple in her art. These combinations of the old and new allow Yvonne to replicate nature with pieces that are both delicate and durable.
Teaching has also been important to Yvonne and teaching is a revered position in traditional Japanese society. Whether as a career with the Vancouver School Board or more recently at the college and university level, Yvonne says, “The reciprocal relationship between teacher and student has enriched and nourished my ideas and affirmed the endless possibilities with which to view and create art.”
She goes on to say, “My goal is to continue exploring shibori’s possibilities, to combine it with Western aesthetics while always respecting and honouring its Japanese folk craft origins. In this way, I make memory visible.”