“I think everything I do is art. I think my whole life is art. Everything I do is for art. Every expression I make is an extension of that … I just live to create.” – Yoko Molotov, 2018
Yoko Molotov is a Louisville, Kentucky-based multimedia artist specializing in transgressive, gender-fluid comics, art, poetry, and performances.
Molotov’s work is inspired by manga artist Mita Ryuusuke, anime studio GAINAX, and surrealist automatism, a free flowing art-making process in which the artist suppresses conscious control over the making process. Her work blends comedy with tragedy, innocence with erotica, and a precise, graphically technical style with unpolished expressionism.
Yoko Molotov has exhibited work at Land of Tomorrow in Louisville and Lexington, Sheherazade Gallery in Louisville, and the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana. As a musician, Molotov performs in projects such as Harpy, WEEK, and meat mama.
DEC 06, 2018
BY JULIE GROSS
A portrait of Jonah from the illustrated book 'Babes of Louisville' by Yoko Molotov.
A burlesque performer, a human pincushion and a guitar-wielding trans woman are just a few of the vibrant people featured in Yoko Molotov’s new illustrated book, “Babes of Louisville.” Molotov, a multimedia artist and musician, has spent the last two years curating a list of 50 people, all of whom she personally knows and has deemed “babe” worthy. The portraits are realistic line drawings with slight details that hint to deeper tones than simple black ink on white paper. For instance, Babe #33: Julie gives a sly look as she grasps a fist full of dollars. Babe #35: K.G. wears a transgender symbol button and conceals their mouth with fingers. Babe #50: Tasha holds a Holy Bible with the word “Lies” taped over the word “Bible.” Expressions from snarls, wide grins and sheepish glances can be found throughout the pages of Molotov’s self-published book. Interestingly, each participant provided the artist with an image of themselves and how they wanted to be depicted, but it is Molotov’s steady hand that created unique two-dimensional characters from some very multi-dimensional people. (And don’t ask her to do a male version of “Babes,” because she’s not interested.)
LEO: What was the impetus of the project Babes of Louisville?
Yoko Molotov: I wanted to illustrate people that interest me, people that inspire me. It’s a love letter.
Do you personally know all 50 people?
The portraits are drawn in black and white similar in style of a coloring book. Would you encourage people to perhaps color them in as part viewer interpretation?
I think that would be great!
Are bios included of each person?
No, but that’s a good idea!
Are the portrait poses done from your memory, a photograph or something else?
I ask each person I want in the book to give me a reference photograph. I wanted to make sure they are happy with how they are represented.
Did anyone decline to be in the book?
Are all the people living?
No. Some are in heaven.
Describe a few of the reactions of people when you asked them to do their portrait.
Most of the people were really excited. I would get messages like, ‘Really me?’ And I would say, ‘Of course. You’re beautiful.’
Describe their reactions after they saw the completed portrait.
When they saw the completed portrait, they were happy. They would share it on their social media, and it made me glad to have touched them positively in that way. I personally believe it is very special for someone to create your portrait. How often does that happen?
The term ‘babe’ has mostly been associated with the female gender. Are they all self-identifying female?
No. But they are in some way feminine. [Gender] is not black and white, although the illustrations are.
The term ‘babe’ can be interpreted as derogatory depending on who is saying it and to whom it is addressed. How do you define this word in association to your book?
A term of endearment. It is endearing from me.
Is there a self-portrait?
Yes! It’s used for my author bio in the back of the book.
Will there be another volume to Babes of Louisville?
Yes, in a couple of years there will be a volume two. I am interested in finishing other projects in the meantime.
By Eli Keel | December 7th, 2018
The prolific creator Yoko Molotov, whose art has shown up everywhere from Sheherazade Gallery to OPEN Gallery, is finally releasing “Babes of Louisville,” the much-anticipated collection of illustrated portraits featuring Molotov’s favorite women and gender-nonconforming folks in Louisville.
A release party is planned for Saturday, Dec. 8, at The Marvelous Mystery.
Insider spoke with the artist about the process and vision behind her work.
“I had the idea in early 2016, and I just continued with it,” Molotov says.
At any point in time, she says she is working on multiple projects, and “Babes” was one among many.
“I work on three or four projects at once, and when one’s complete, I start another one,” she explains. “It’s really important for me to create. So I’m always creating.”
Those creations come in the form of drawing every day, creating music and working on digitally based art, paintings and a variety of different styles of drawing. While Molotov’s overall oeuvre is very expansive, “Babes” has a specific focus, as indicated by its title.
“It’s just people that, to me, I find inspiring,” says Molotov. “It’s really that simple. All of them are feminine, but they don’t identify distinctly as women.”
Sourcing subjects for “Babes” wasn’t hard, according to the artist.
“I just have a lot of friends, and I know a lot of people, and people I find interesting. I just messaged them and asked if I could draw their portrait for the book,” she says.
Like a lot of millennials and those in Generation Z, Molotov’s daily practice is on full view via social media.
“I share all my work … I’m a highly narrative and public artist,” she adds.
When Molotov first started this series in 2016, the results went on the web immediately.
“The response was positive, and people love to see their portraits and portraits of their friends.”
Despite the positive responses, there were questions about her focus. Questions like, “So when are you doing a ‘Dudes of Louisville’ project?”
The answer is “never.”
“I just don’t find them very interesting, and they get enough of a spotlight already,” says Molotov. “They already rule the world, why would I spend time worshipping them?”
Molotov has done portraits of dudes in the past, but never based solely on their dudeness.
“I do illustrations of people all the time, based on their own merits,” she says.
The people in “Babes of Louisville” are frequently high-profile Louisvillians with plenty of merit, like the much-celebrated punk duo GRLwood. Molotov talked about choosing them as subjects.
“I admire what they do, and I like watching them develop.”
Molotov gets her own books ready for the printer.
“Anybody can set a book for print,” she says. “It’s the productivity and the follow-through of producing materials that is really the critical aspect of the project.”
Despite her heavy involvement in the publication process, Molotov dislikes the term “DIY.”
“Isn’t the very notion of creating ‘doing it yourself’? I think that’s kind of a silly question.”
Molotov believes she’s “doing it yourself,” i.e. creating at all times.
“I think everything I do is art,” she says. “I think my whole life is art. Everything I do is for art. Every expression I make is an extension of that … I just live to create.”
She also believes that anyone who chooses to create can, and she offers advice and encouragement for anyone thinking of getting creative.
“Don’t be afraid to create or let any negative thoughts keep you from doing things, especially talking yourself out of what you can do,” she says. “Anybody can create — you just have to find the right medium.”
See what Molotov has been working on Saturday, Dec. 8, at The Marvelous Mystery, 994 Barret Ave. Books go on sale at 5 p.m., and music by GRLwood starts at 6:30 p.m. The event is free.
March 31st, 2018 | Published in March 2018
“I’m always looking for relationships between my existence and total existence, connections between here and elsewhere”.
Yoko Molotov is recognized locally as a rather prolific artist whose confessional, dystopian, and gender-fluid drawings are a recognizable feature of Louisville’s online landscape. Typically pulling from irony, humor, horror, and kawaii, Molotov typically creates cartoonish narratives that are both easily recognized and self-referential. Molotov’s solo exhibition Sweet Dreams at Sheherazade features six new panoramic digital drawings inspired by surrealist automatism, as well as a multimedia collaboration with Joe Frey. Frey’s electronic plotter machine translated her images into sound during a performance at the opening reception. A film of that performance is on display via a small television that is propped up to the glass of the gallery’s front window for the remainder of the exhibition. For sake of spacial reference, Sheherazade is an experimental, artist-run gallery (curated by Julie Leidner) located out of a garage within the Old Louisville neighborhood. The garage has been outfitted with a large, window paned garage door leaving the gallery to be open and closed simultaneously 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Leidner’s curatorial goal in developing this space is situated so that local community members (regardless of awareness or understanding of contemporary art) can consume whatever work is inside, without pretense of entry.
Molotov’s six panels consisted of curvilinear, sugary, cloud-like imagery, and sustained color palettes of lavender, teals, tangerines, sherbets, lemon chiffons, and deeper teals. Accompanying these drawings were the sound response recordings, actively transcribed during the opening reception. The hyperbolic soundscape that was afforded from Joe Frey’s electronic plotter machine was a bizarre and appropriate accompaniment to these large format digital drawings. Together, the audience was pushed into an experience akin to an acid trip that they didn’t sign up for, but were pleased to be a part of, once informed of the consumption. There is an innocent, or ironic, sexuality to the works that is nestled in their cloudy color palette and dreamy approach. To add, ironically, there is a lot of humanity in an exhibition that feels like a post-internet dream space. It’s digitally dreamy.
But Yoko Molotov is hard to take seriously, because they don’t take themselves seriously— or at least that’s their projected identity— their Nihilism prohibits them from taking any rhetoric or aesthetic perspective, thus leaving their audience to assume that the purpose of the work is either for the sake of disillusion or it’s, in fact, satirical. Which brings me to my biggest question for the artist: If you are as nihilistic as you project, what is the inherent point in making work that references surrealist automatism? What is the purpose in creating work that studies the autonomies of the self or spirit or soul or whatever? If life is meaningless, why study it? Don’t get me wrong, these questions are not to imply that the show wasn’t interesting / pleasurable / successful. It was all of the above. I’m simply saying that there was a lack of intent that I found confusing, which, could have absolutely been intentional. I just want to be in on the joke, and I’m clearly not.
The drawings breathe of kawaii, jo-ha-kyu, and other Japanese contemporary aesthetics, as well as western graffiti. Immediately, two artists come to mind: Sam3 (Spain) and Mariko Mori (Japan). In fact, it’s a quote by Mori (stated as a preface to this review) that I believe is a productive lens in which to consume Molotov’s exhibition. The question relates to Molotov’s reception of the world, the projection of unconscious consideration of that world, and the visual manifestation of her reality that sits firmly in a small garage gallery in Louisville, Kentucky. I thank her for bringing us in on the experience.
As a visual artist Yoko Molotov has exhibited work at Land of Tomorrow in Louisville and Lexington, Gallery K, and the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, in addition to self-publishing multiple art books including GIRLS, What It’s Like to See Them, and Scratch Fights. As a musician, Molotov has played in projects such as Harpy, Sweatermeat, and Tycoon$ of Teen.
The exhibition will be installed, with a video loop running, at Sheherazade until April 14th, 2018. The gallery is open / not open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.
[Excerpt from full interview]
BY EILEEN YANOVIAK APRIL 25, 2018
The new artist-run space Sheherazade is located in a one-car garage attached to artist Julie Leidner’s studio in Old Louisville.
Take a stroll down Magnolia Avenue, an unassuming side street in historic Old Louisville lined with grand Victorian homes, and you might stumble upon the garage gallery Sheherazade. In a city that desperately needs experimental art spaces, Sheherazade offers new and established local artists the opportunity to exhibit without the constraints of traditional gallery models. Operated by artist Julie Leidner, the gallery is located in the one-car garage attached to her studio, with an industrial steel and glass garage door providing a view of the installations. It is paradoxically always visible but never open. I was curious about how Leidner makes this counterintuitive approach work, and why she chose to open an experimental art space when the outlook for financial success is rather bleak.
Eileen Yanoviak: As an artist, and with this being your studio space, what made you want to start this project?
Julie Leidner: This was a gallery a few years ago. It was called ThinkBox Contemporary and was run by Shohei Katayama. He lived in the apartment upstairs. He painted the limestone walls white, installed new track lighting, and this white tile floor. He and the landlord, who was on-board with this project, installed this steel door, which does not conform to historical district regulations, so they were fined for it. The door itself really stands out from the rest of architecture in Old Louisville.
ThinkBox closed in August 2016 when Katayama left Louisville for Pittsburgh to pursue his MFA, so I decided to move in, not knowing what I would do with the space. I decided to use one area for my studio and the garage as a window gallery that I did not have to staff. It could be viewable 24 hours a day. I have seen things like this in other cities. I have friends who have home gallery spaces in Brooklyn, so it’s not a new concept.
EY: Why does this work in Louisville?
JL: It appeals to me for various reasons. I sometimes feel like I don’t have a community around me. I do, but I think a lot of times artists stay in their separate little bubbles. I have tried reaching out to artists, and I’ve had a variety of responses. Sometimes they say, “Oh, yeah, come to my studio” and we get to know each other a little bit, but some were not open to it at all. So, I have had varied levels of success connecting with other artists. I thought that this would be, almost selfishly, a way to build my own community here. I could just feed off the energy of the artist whose work inhabits this space.
EY: How are you choosing artists for Sheherazade?
JL: The first artist was Norman Spencer, who lives in the neighborhood. Norman and Yoko Molotov, the second artist, have a particular way of existing in this little part of the Louisville art economy. There are a lot of places to sell cheaper, smaller, commodifiable art, like a gallery or boutique, where the piece of art sales for $40. There is nothing wrong with that. That’s the kind of work I can afford to buy. That’s the type of place where these artists were showing, but they take their work very seriously, and they have a persistent aesthetic.
EY: So you wanted to give those artists a chance to pursue a bigger vision?
JL: Yes. They have to navigate this landscape and figure out how to sell art or make money in order to keep making work. I was interested in seeing what they would do if they had the space where they could separate from the commercial aspect of their work, even just for four or five weeks.
EY: Tell me a little about your recent current show, Yoko Molotov’s “Sweet Dreams.”
JL: I see her as being a very emblematic Louisville artist in the way that she works and the way that she exists in different creative spaces. First of all, she is a musician as well as a visual artist. I think she embodies the spirit of Louisville by being so deeply attracted to experimental music. She’s an interesting person because she has multiple alter-egos that she goes by. She has a huge online following for her visual art, and every day she posts very confessional pictures and drawings on social media.
Installation view of Yoko Molotov’s “Sweet Dreams” at Sheherazade.
This show is a little bit different from some of her better known work. It reflects her deep interests in automatic writing and surrealism. As an artist, a musician, and an online presence, she is fundamentally a performer.