[dropcap class=”kp-dropcap radius”]F[/dropcap]or some, having poverty and marginalization as a part of their history would discourage them from bringing creative goodness in the world. Peter Yumi, Denver-based painter and cannabis advocate, instead draws strength from the darkness in his past and the struggles he sees into the world, and uses them as inspiration for his vibrant paintings.
“I have been making things since I can remember,” he told CULTURE. “One of my earliest memories is my mother teaching me how to mix orange at a very young age. I always thought being an artist was something that was for other people, not a poor kid like myself. I had no clue what an artist was or that I could even aspire to be an artist until I was in my 30s. In many ways, growing up in poverty and not having the access to ideas about art and artists informs my work now. I like to use cheap materials, or found materials, in my work.”
Yumi draws a lot of inspiration from both the negatives and positives in life—the struggles he sees, but also the beautiful music he loves to hear. “I am currently deeply influenced by Samba music, particularly the music of Bezerra da Silva,” he stated. “His music resonates for me for a number of reasons, mainly because he grew up poor in the Favelas and his music often deals with how poor people are marginalized. I follow a lot of visual artists, and I like to play off of other artists’ ideas and try to make them my own, I borrow from almost any artist whom I feel really communicates something to me. Donald Fodness is a Denver artist whose work I recently started looking at closely, I love Terry Winters and Mark Bradford.”
“My work lately has been about the struggles of the poor, globally,” he added. “One of my recent paintings is called ‘Asa Á Cobra;’ it’s named after a song by Bezerra da Silva. The title means ‘Snake with Wings;’ the song is about how maybe when snakes have wings the poor will rise up and do something about the social issues in Brazil. Although I am not Brazilian, the song seems important for people all over the world including us living the United States.”
In addition to other issues, Yumi is an advocate for cannabis use. “I haven’t worked cannabis into my work, but I think that the issues around cannabis legalization deal with the same issues I mentioned previously,” he stated. “It’s a race, class issue. Incarceration of a disproportionate number of blacks in our country. So I hope that my work in some way gets people thinking about these issues, gets people active in politics in some way. A simple letter to your congressman or senator can do a great deal more than a Tweet or a Facebook post.”
To catch Yumi’s work in the flesh, check out the current pieces he has showing this month at The Art Gym and Ice Cube Gallery.