The Written Image: John Yau’s “Wanted!” Series

From the January/February 2024 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

Among the perversely iconic artifacts of Americana is the “Wanted” poster. A broadside stamped with the face of an alleged criminal and fugitive, it conjures the Wild West and early-twentieth-century celebrity gangsters like John Dillinger. This odd bit of penal-turned-popular culture inspired a new project by poet, art critic, and renaissance creator John Yau and visual artist Richard Hull. But their “Wanted!” series of twenty-three monotype prints highlights praiseworthy subjects: artists whom Yau and Hull believe deserve wider acclaim.

John Yau and visual artist Richard Hull highlight John D. Graham and Sessue Hayakawa in the format of the “Wanted” poster. (Credit: Manneken Press)

The monotypes pictured above, for example, call for “more eyes on” John D. Graham, a Ukrainian-born American painter known for his influence on abstract art in the mid-twentieth century, and “a lavish biopic” about Sessue Hayakawa, a Japanese actor who rose to fame in Hollywood silent cinema. Other figures hailed by the series include Anna May Wong, a Chinese American film star who became prominent in the 1920s, and Miyoko Ito, an abstract painter and printmaker from Berkeley, California, active in the mid- and late twentieth century. For each print, created with pigment sticks and water-soluble crayons, Yau composed language and rendered it on two glass plates; Hull drew the image for the middle on a separate plate. The three plates were combined to make a single monotype published by Manneken Press. Prints from the series will be on view January 9 to June 1 at the University of Kentucky Art Museum in “Disguise the Limit: John Yau’s Collaborations,” which explores Yau’s creative output with other makers during the past four decades. “I believe this show will demonstrate something about my belief that poetry can exist in many forms and that it can be more than an individual’s voice,” says Yau.