Exhibitionists: Yasmina Dedijer-Small

A mother, a surfer and an artist, Yasmina Dedijer-Small’s work purveys a natural sense of balance. Having explored all ends of the Earth, she’s seen an incredible amount of beauty and complexity, but she remains dedicated to simple, radial patterns, all painted on our Earth’s most useful resource: wood. Currently dwelling in the Pacific Northwest, Korduroy contributor Danielle Egge chatted with Deijer-Small over the phone to ask our standard Exhibitionists questions and then some. 

The Oregon coast is your home, but you grew up in Venice Beach. Talk about a huge juxtaposition! How do you think these two very distinct places shaped you as an artist?

Well, you’re right, it’s definitely an extreme contrast. Venice Beach fit my parents perfectly, as they are both very progressive architects and were instrumental figures in the Beach’s artist community. It was the early ‘80s and we lived in a solar-powered home designed by my mother that opened its doors to a constant stream of wild and eccentric characters; creative production never ceased in our household. Our move to Oregon was very intentional, as my parents were seeking a different quality of life for our family. When we moved, I never looked back or wished differently; I was content to explore open beaches and the forests (even in the rain!) and ended up loving a more low-key lifestyle. So, I think my work is a combination of Venice’s experimentation and then the humbling natural habitat of the coast. I need both of them.

Who are your top three artistic influencers?

Three? But there are so many! My greatest artistic influence is my father, Glen Howard Small.  He’s an architect, and I love the way he approaches problems; his play with patterning and structure is deeply engrained in how I work. (Check him out at www.smallatlarge.com.) I’ve found another consistent mentor in sculptor David Kimball Anderson. David has been a big teacher for me, and not only in my artistic career, but just life, in general! As far as those whose work I admire: Sophie Calle’s voyeuristic work, Thomas Cambell’s photographs, the paintings of Alex Kopps, among many, many others.

Where do you create your art?

I’ve had a lot of different studios because I have lived in a lot of different places. So, with that in mind, I suppose I create my art wherever I can, whether it be in a van, on a bench, or on someone else’s kitchen table. My pieces are generally small, so I can be flexible within my space. And, I hold the general philosophy that your work should never be limited by your space! Sometimes I think that artists (including myself) become restricted by their assumed needs: “I need a really good studio,” or “I need that specific paintbrush.” I’m consistently trying to correct that perspective and to make do with what I have. I find that most of the time, we have more than we think we have, anyway.

How much time do you typically spend on each piece?

Oh, wow, that completely depends. I could start a piece, spend a couple of hours on it, put it down and then start up again three weeks later. Or, if I’m focused and my son is napping, I can finish a piece in an hour!

Your pieces usually work in groupings, I’ve noticed. I’ll see several pieces displayed as one. Can you explain this a little bit more?

Yeah! I call those groupings “families.” A piece isn’t necessarily complete until I finish the family, so this is why it’s hard to keep track of how long it takes me to finish something. For instance, my last family consisted of 70 pieces that communicate and blend together. I originally displayed my families together, but then they end up venturing into the universe alone, and become individuals. I suppose the process mimics how our lives generally work.

What mediums do you work in?

I’m currently really into gouache, which is a water-based paint. Wood is my primary canvas; I love it! I’m constantly scouting for appropriate wood: panels, rounds, you name it, and I’ll take it!


Where did your passion for wood as a medium originate? How does it contribute to your mission as an artist?

Well, first of all, wood is paper in its raw form. It’s a beautiful resource and a very natural part of our world. And, secondly, I love the preparation that wood requires; before I even pick up a paintbrush, I’ve searched, whittled, sanded and spent time examining the grains. But then, when my paintbrush hits its surface, it gets even better because I love the actual feeling of my brush meeting wood. There’s a certain vibration with each stroke. And most importantly, wood (especially the wood rounds) challenges me to create harmony with nature. The rings of the round and perimeter bark are a starting point to what otherwise would be an empty canvas.

How does the Oregon coast play into your artwork?

Well, my family and I are always outdoors, exploring the coast in our van. I spend a lot of time traipsing through trees, being dirty, surfing, and essentially absorbing the natural environment. When I first moved to Oregon, I began to notice nature’s circular patterns, and the complete, non-linear personality of Oregon’s coast and am still to this day fascinated by it. When I sit down to paint, it is this circular form that pours out of my paintbrushes. I guess it’s more of this unconscious thing, I’ve never really articulated it before!

Do you think your art speaks to land dwellers as much as it does to sea-goers? Or, do you see yourself bringing a part of the ocean to those who may be landlocked?

I think either, really. I’d love it if my work could act as a Midwesterner’s gateway to the ocean. Most of my work is ocean-inspired because that’s where my consciousness is. Whether sailing across the ocean, or what it feels like to be physically IN the ocean. The ocean body becomes a form for me, but I mean as humans, we are mostly water, anyway. More recently, however, I feel like my work has been very much land-based; especially the edge where land meets the sea. About a year ago, my husband and I drove the west coast in our van, so we literally lived on that edge, and I see my current work reflecting that experience.


Any advice to young artists?

Don’t get stuck in your technique! Allow yourself to make mistakes, to have fun, and to experiment. All in all, don’t be afraid to EXPLORE! Life is constantly changing, so how could we expect our art to remain stagnant? I know for myself that I would feel suffocated if I felt like I had to repeatedly create the same thing, over and over. At the end of the day, no one is limiting you, right? We create our own limitations! 

*Photos by Dylan Lucas Gordon

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