Skip to main content

“The Melting World” – Art Inspired By Earthquake, Tsunami

A memorial to the nearly 16,000 lives lost in Japan during 2011 natural disaster

  • Traveling exhibit makes a stop at Northwestern’s Dittmar Gallery June 25 to Aug. 9
  • Figurative hand-painted paper scroll that stretches 30-feet took artist 328 days to create
  • Artist uses his work as a communication tool to develop culture and community
  • Yoshimoto hopes exhibition will spark visitors’ humanity to help homeless in Japan

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Painter and multimedia artist Jave Yoshimoto’s chaotic and colorful figurative scrolls draw attention to the magnitude of natural disasters. They depict jarring scenes that overwhelm the viewer with the necessity of empathy, remembrance and compassion.

Yoshimoto’s nine-piece “Disaster” series, along with 11 works from his preceding “Godzilla invading” series, will be featured in the June 25 through Aug. 9 exhibition, “The Melting World” at Northwestern University’s Dittmar Memorial Gallery.

Free and open to the public, the exhibition and a 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, June 25 opening reception, will take place at the gallery, located on the first floor of Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive, on the Evanston campus. 

Yoshimoto uses art as a communication tool for developing culture and community. He also explores the lasting news in the information era and the social memory of tragedy. 

Born in Japan in 1974 to Chinese parents, Yoshimoto immigrated to the U.S. in 1984. When the devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami struck northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, he was a graduate art student at Syracuse University in New York. 

The disaster left nearly 16,000 dead, more than 6,000 injured, 2,500-plus people missing and caused an estimated total of $300 billion in damages. The tragedy and the steady stream of related imagery that appeared on the Internet at the time began to haunt Yoshimoto; he wasn’t able to sleep for many days after the incident.

“I knew that I wanted to give back somehow,” said artist said. “I had seen relief funds pop up here and there, so I decided to utilize my talent to pay homage and honor those who lost their lives and homes that day.” 

Yoshimoto spent the next 328 days painting his "scroll project,” a 2012 installation piece he titled “Baptism of concrete estuary.” Upon completion, he scanned the 42 inch-by-30-foot long scroll to create copies. His scroll was unveiled and exhibited in The Art Students League of New York. Reproduction prints in various formats were sold for $100 to $1,000 each as a fundraiser, with all proceeds going to charity to build an art center for the youth in Sendai, the second largest city north of Tokyo -- where the tsunami hit the hardest. (The scroll painting process can be viewed on Yoshimoto’s blog.

The extensive hand-painted scroll, which the artist plans to display on an unusually long flat table, is the key piece in his Dittmar exhibit. It is done in the Japanese style of Ukiyo-e woodblock prints and features 36 consecutive and complex figurative scenes that depict the destruction caused by the 2011 earthquake, as well as the human tragedy and heroism at the time.

Shortly before the scroll was finished, one gallery owner told Yoshimoto that he had created a “curatorial nightmare” because of the piece’s extensive length, which prompted the artist to also create a smaller related work.

“Harbinger of late winter day's dusk,” a 31-by-40-inch work from 2012, is a more compact and concise version of the scroll. The piece conveys the spirit of the scroll painting in a more manageable and display-friendly way.

Yoshimoto’s “Vultures of fragments past” (2012) is a continuation of the scroll project and Harbinger piece. All three works were inspired by the news accounts of the tsunami debris from Japan traveling across to the shores of Oregon and the state of Washington and spreading all the way up to Vancouver, British Columbia. 

“I wanted to tell the tales of the travels of the debris across the Pacific, and the incredibly difficult task of trying to clean up such a mess,” the artist added.

Yoshimoto’s Dittmar exhibition also will include some smaller serigraphy pieces, which are hand-pulled print reproductions of a couple of pieces from the artist’s “Disaster series. “Stray dog strut,” a digital illustration on vinyl, and “Spray dog strut,” a spray painted laser cut on wood, both created in 2011 from Yoshimoto’s "Godzilla invading" series, are the only two works in the exhibit that were computer-generated. All of the rest were drawn and painted by hand with gouache, ink and acrylics on paper.

“We are bombarded with imagery on screens, be it on our cell phones, computers or televisions and it is very easy to disregard and forget yesterday's news,” said the socially conscious artist. “The Japanese tragedy of 2011 was four years ago, and I'm concerned that the majority of the world might have forgotten that there are over 100,000 people who are still without homes from that day. I want people to remember their humanity and help those in need.”

After the “The Melting World” closes at the Dittmar, the exhibit will travel to galleries in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Fort Worth, Texas; and Eureka, California in 2016 and to Cookeville, Tennessee in 2017.

Yoshimoto recently completed a two-year stint as program director and assistant professor of art at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, where he taught painting, life drawing and art history survey classes. This fall he will begin teaching drawing and painting classes at the University of Nebraska Omaha, as the new assistant professor of art foundations.

For more information on Yoshimoto, visit

Topics: Events, Media
Back to top