Yahel Yan: “My Canvas is My Playground”


Working in her whimsical home studio in Chula Vista, Yahel Yan can’t take the brush away from the canvas. “The canvas itself begins to tell me a story, and it becomes a dialogue between the canvas and me.”

Yahel Yan is a Mexican artist who has been chosen to participate in Art San Diego’s 15th Annual Contemporary Art Fair, to be held from November 3 to 5. She was picked amongst 15 other artists that sent their submissions.

Her current series, ‘My Canvas is My Playground,’ explores abstract whimsy. Yan uses a vibrant palette and layers of color to evoke emotions and hidden memories.

Her love for art began with her childhood in the capital of Mexico

Yan was born and raised in the outskirts of Mexico City from an artistic family. From a young age, she was raised around museums, art, and artists in a city with a vibrant and colorful culture.

“My parents were art collectors, and they took us to see many artists. It was very enriching in terms of my artistic interest. I don’t know if you know that Mexico has the largest number of museums in the world, and that enriched me a lot. There is also a very strong creative and culinary culture. Mexico has amazing flavors, hues, and overall aesthetic; Mexico is very cool,” she said.

“I get inspiration from everything around me.” Yahel expresses herself intuitively; she grabs creativity from what she feels or where she is at the moment.

Art helped her integrate

In the year 2000, Yahel’s life changed drastically when she moved to the U.S. Being pregnant at that time and with two young sons, she found it hard to adjust to life in San Diego.

“It was a change in language, medical system, and school system. I had to help my children in school, and I didn’t speak English perfectly. By helping my sons, I started to learn English a little better. Everything was different here, but here we are working hard,” the artist said.

While she was busy being a full-time mom, Yahen took the opportunity of expressing her love for art at her kid’s school events. She would make her son’s customs for school plays and always volunteered to paint the scenography for the stage plays.

From painting for fun to becoming a professional artist

When her youngest child began school, she started to get back into painting just for fun. She then found time to join an art class, and her career started from there. “I held my first solo painting exhibition at Ashton Gallery in 2019, marking the beginning of my professional artistic career.”

In her art classes, she befriended four other artists. During the pandemic, they bonded over their love for creativity and decided to showcase their art publicly.

“We had the opportunity to rent a studio in Liberty Station; we now have our studio there. It’s called F1VE Art Studio and Gallery. Each of us is independent and the owner of our own profession as an artist.”

“My Canvas is My Playground”

With incredible joy, Yahel tells us what this exhibition means to her and how it came to be.

“Since I essentially play with the canvas, I chose that title. I begin by splattering paint onto the canvas, after which I edit and add paint to specific areas. I also rotate the painting a lot, and then I paint intuitively without thinking, just looking for figures that I like and combining colors that match until the canvas itself begins to tell me a story, and it becomes a dialogue between the canvas and me,” she said. “Occasionally, I’ve even seen elements that I never would have thought to paint, which is really fascinating because they tell really amusing stories.”

In “My Canvas is My Playground,” the artist invites everyone to be playful and to never forget how to have fun, stay positive, and love.

While this art display is exclusively done with acrylic paint, Yan also embodies the use of oil painting and even printmaking in some of her other works. “Chairs are what I paint in my figurative oil paintings.”

Why chairs?

If you take a quick look into Yahel’s portfolio, you will find many portraits of chairs in different settings, and as our conversation went on, I noticed that the topic of chairs came up a lot during our exchange.

So, the obvious question to ask was, why chairs?

“A chair is an object, a simple one at that. It’s an object that people use every day and often take for granted and discard as just ordinary. Some people see my chairs as solitary or as a void waiting to be filled, but to me, they are full of life. The chairs I know tell hundreds of stories; stories of people who sat there, of people who have passed them by, experiences they have seen, and experiences yet to come. It is here that my imagination runs free. My canvas is where those chairs finally get the opportunity to tell their story, be humanized, and be seen as the subject.”

 “Regardless of whether they are painted in oil or acrylic, what’s important is that the audience finds the feelings and emotions hidden beyond the paint,” she said.

Art San Diego’s 15th Annual Contemporary Art Fair

Art San Diego partnered with Monarch School and Humble Design to further their missions of serving homeless families in San Diego County. A prerequisite to being able to participate was for the artists to volunteer at Monarch School. This school focuses on helping unhoused youth reach academic success while working with their families.

“My commitment was one class, and so far, I have done three, and the truth is I plan to return.”

Yan says that she loves to teach and that showing kids how to express themselves through art brings her great joy. Excitement could be heard while she spoke about her experience with the kids and the upcoming event.

“In this instance, I used chairs as the subject of a “self-portrait” that I created with the kids. I wanted them to be able to perceive through an object who they are, what they are like, and what they hope to become in the future. They will actually be on display during the exhibition, and since the proceeds from the sale of those paintings will go directly to the children, I sincerely hope that people will purchase them.”