Reviews by Tony Tone
Plica Fimbriata #2
38 pages, full color, $12
Textured Elevation #1
44 pages, full color, $12
When something spins really fast, like a tornado, a spiral galaxy, or the carousel in Hitchcock’s Strangers On a Train, stuff is thrown out in all directions—with unpredictable results. It’s the picture you need to keep in your mind when you’re dealing with the remarkable Yoko OK. I first encountered her when she was still a college student, visiting her hometown of New York City, and playing a set at the late, lamented Sidewalk Cafe. At that time she performed accompanied only by her own guitar, and even though both the singing and the guitar playing were pretty amateurish (I guess “serviceable” is a word I would use) the quality of the songs, and the confidence she projected in presenting them, made me sit straight up in my chair.
And now many, many years down the line, Yoko is still spinning and things are still being thrown from the vortex that are remarkable in one way or another—and sometimes in many different ways. In the time since, she has fronted several really great bands, including the wonderful Dream Bitches, who made two albums, created photographs (her years-long series of pictures of people caught in mid-air while jumping is especially fascinating), and produced lots and lots of drawings.
Yoko is still spinning and things are still being thrown from the vortex that are remarkable in one way or another. She has fronted several really great bands, including the wonderful Dream Bitches; created photographs (her years-long series of pictures of people caught in mid-air while jumping is especially fascinating); and produced lots and lots of drawings.
So let’s talk about the drawings, ’cause that’s what we’re here for. Yoko’s hand-drawn art seemed to take more of a center stage after she moved to the Bay Area about 10 years ago (important to note: she is still doing all of those other things, like music and photography and roller skating and encouraging and organizing other people to do all those things as well, but I’m only going to concentrate on one of them for the purposes of this piece). Visual art had always been part of her life—her mom is an artist, and was also a part of the core creative staff for an iconic N.Y. clothing firm—but she had laid aside drawing to some degree to pursue other forms.
Then in 2018 she started “Daily Drawings,” which she began posting on Instagram. Also during this time her drawing style coalesced into what it is now—economical sketched shapes and details, usually (although not always) vibrantly colored with markers, which make each panel come “alive” without necessarily making them more “realistic.” Every person and object is caricatured, but at the same time Yoko’s obsession with small details also enters the fray, and so you are looking at things that are not drawn as “accurate” depictions of the way things look, but are accurate depictions of how they exist in the world.
Although her detailed sharing of so many parts of her life—snippets of conversations with her therapist, or things like ‘Four Things I Did (in the last 24 hours)’—is very much the zeitgeist of comics, books, and social media nowadays, she is not presenting these things to show what an interesting person she is, or to shine a spotlight on herself, but to show how interesting and important even the most mundane aspects of the world are.
A great example is “Stuff that had fallen between the bed and the wall from June or July 2019 through now (retrieved April 4th 2020 at approximately 2:35 PM)” from her comic Plica Fimbriata #2. The title alone is a pretty good encapsulation of how Yoko works, but the drawings even more so—the “piece of a cardboard box” she digs out is rendered with the scrap of its address clearly legible, the illustration of “this many pens!” shows seven pens and two crayons with enough detail so you can recognize the brands, and the “two quarter-sized flyers for the same show” actually show enough detail of the text that you could actually attend the show (if it wasn’t more than a year in the past). Even the title of the book itself, Plica Fimbriata, is the medical name for the small folds in the membrane on the underside of your tongue, a tiny detail of the physical world that most people don’t even think about but Yoko got interested in at one point.
But the real magic is in rendering all this mundane detail somehow meaningful. That’s more difficult to parse out. I won’t say I totally understand how she gets this effect, but one of the aspects is that although her detailed sharing of so many parts of her life—snippets of conversations with her therapist, or things like “Four Things I Did (in the last 24 hours)”—is very much the zeitgeist of comics, books, and social media nowadays, she is not presenting these things to show what an interesting person she is, or to shine a spotlight on herself, but to show how interesting and important even the most mundane aspects of the world are. This is autobiographical art that is not “introspective” in the way that so much art is nowadays. She is always looking out and around, even as she places it very much in the context of her own personal experience. And her own enthusiasm, sense of wonder, and fascination with how the world works illuminates this material in a way that’s unique. And it’s the physical world that Yoko wants to examine, not the internal one.
Which brings us to Textured Elevation, really one of the best art zines I’ve ever seen. This zine is compiled, rather than wholly created, by Yoko but her personality and personal obsessions form the structure that gives it life. Much of Yoko’s work examines the relationship of physical space with details of the internal life of not just her, but people
. In this collection of “maps” (real and imagined) made by various artists, writers, musicians, and other people she knows, these things are placed on top of (or within) physical spaces. There are plenty of minute details carefully cataloged (a Yoko OK specialty that bleeds into other people’s work here) and sometimes a touch of nostalgia (another obsession of hers is cataloging past dates, and numbers, and anniversaries, often at length) and others follow her lead her as well.
Which brings us to Textured Elevation, really one of the best art zines I’ve ever seen. It is compiled, rather than wholly created, by Yoko but her personality and personal obsessions form the structure that gives it life. Much of her work examines the relationship of physical space with details of the internal life of not just her, but people. In this collection of ‘maps’ (real and imagined) made by various contributors, these things are placed on top of (or within) physical spaces.
A great example is the writer Kate Wheeler’s touching and wistful “Walking Meditation” which Wheeler introduces with “I’ve spent so much time this year remembering—it seemed like every nice thing that would happen was in the past” and includes her walk to her elementary school, and among others, two walks in Brooklyn with the late musician and anti-folk provocateur Dashan Coram, and a third walk that is labeled, “Walk the day that Dashan died. We didn’t know it yet. It was raining and we stopped to get borscht on the way.” Or the artist Anna Moriarty Lev’s “A Map of My Body Where so Many Things Have Happened” which is just what the title says, and so much more. It includes notations like, “uterus has grown/ two babies and pushed/ them out/ stretched and bled/ swelled with preeclampsia/ rages with hormones.”
This is the wide world as humans perceive it, living in their heads and living on the Earth—and with each other—at the same time. It seems fitting that it would be created and published after more than a year of not-quite-over pandemic, where questions about how we live and how we used to live—and with who—are more on our minds than ever. And of course—typical Yoko!—there is an accompanying Soundcloud playlist, which includes the song that gives the zine its name, a collaboration between the folk/antifolk guitar virtuoso Dibs and Yoko. Her own contribution is a profusely illustrated version of the song’s lyrics that forms the centerfold of the zine.
I could probably do a little essay on each contribution, but instead I think people should read it and write their own. Really great artists often not only make great work but create communities of people trying to do great work. That’s been my nearly 20-year experience with Yoko OK, and it looks like there’s no sign of it changing anytime soon.
Price includes shipping – order on yoko-ok.com or buy directly from Desert Island Comics in Brooklyn!)
TONY TONE (at left with friend) is a poet, musician, songwriter, and former professional music critic who lives in New York City. He also makes tiny boxes with miniature poems in them and he sometimes is in a band called The Recording Angels. His varied output is the very essence of the “jack of all trades, master of none” trope. He is old enough to have joined his first band in 1967 and written his first poem in 1968. You can see some of his poetry at tonyare.weebly.com and he is on instagram as Tonytone3062.