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ROBERT YASUDA

MAKE HASTE SLOWLY (ISOGABA MAWARE – JAPANESE PROVERB)


GALLERY MISSION Established in 2000, Sundaram Tagore Gallery is devoted to examining the exchange of ideas between Western and non-Western cultures. We focus on developing exhibitions and hosting not-for-profit events that encourage spiritual, social and aesthetic dialogues. In a world where communication is instant and cultures are colliding and melding as never before, our goal is to provide venues for art that transcend boundaries of all sorts. With alliances across the globe, our interest in cross-cultural exchange extends beyond the visual arts into many other disciplines, including poetry, literature, performance art, film and music.


MAKE HASTE SLOWLY – ( ) ISOGABA MAWARE

JAPANESE PROVERB

Is it painting? Is it wall sculpture? Is it painted sculpture? I remember when I was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant many years ago the committee contacted me to ask if I wanted to receive it in painting or sculpture. I said painting. I was born on the island of Kauai in Hawaii in 1940 in an agricultural area and grew up in a farming community. My parents followed a Buddhist way of life which was a great influence on my thinking and future work. I was an only child and spent a solitary childhood with the ocean and mountains. Hawaii at that time was a sparsely populated dot in the Pacific Ocean. At the age of 14 I was sent to school in Honolulu and in 1958, at 17, I traveled to Brooklyn, New York, to study industrial design at Pratt Institute. It was at this time that I discovered the New York School of painting and was swept away by its power, newness and passion. I began studying painting as well as visiting galleries. Much of my education took place at these gallery visits. In 1962 I received a Whitney Foundation fellowship and lived in Europe for a year where I studied paintings in the museums of France, Spain and Italy. I had my first solo exhibition at the Bruno Bischofberger Gallery in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1968. After participating in a series of group exhibitions in New York, I joined the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1974.


It was at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1975 that I constructed the first large-scale leaning wall painting (measuring 12 feet by 26 feet). Because of time constraints in creating the large-scale painting installation, I discovered that with polymers I could paint many layers in order to develop a surface and color that I could not achieve in oil paint which I had used previously. Other large-scale painting installations followed at museums and galleries throughout the country—the tallest being 20 feet high at the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage, and the longest 36 feet at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Some paintings were backlit which created very illusive colors. With this realization and wanting to make smaller transportable paintings, I switched to wood supports in order to develop shaped and sculpted paintings, which I continue to do to this day. My process starts with carving and shaping the wood panels. The forms they take are intuitive. I then paint on the wood directly, followed by laminating thin fabric on the painted wood surface and then layering multiple coats of translucent paint. The fabric is actually sandwiched between the paint. The final color comes from this visual mixture of many transparent layers. The paintings are a form of meditation that brings you into the work, creating a quiet intensity and intimate space. –Robert Yasuda, December, 2013


In an age when information and visual stimulation bombard us in voluminous amounts and with increasing rapidity, can a work of art really pacify the eye and serve as an anodyne to the soul? Robert Yasuda’s shaped paintings are nuanced visual experiences that require a studied reading and only fully reveal themselves after an extended examination. At first glance, the artist’s work may appear to come from a hermetic type of abstraction that developed in the 1960s wherein the work of art was referring to nothing but itself. Emerging when Minimalism was at its height, Yasuda was one of a younger generation of artists who attempted to go beyond its rectilinear circumscription. For him, this exploration has been manifested in his ongoing search to liberate himself Left: Origins, 2013, acrylic on fabric on wood, 36 x 64 inches

from the confines of the quadrangle and engage with the physicality of the space. The result is a body of work that is more than mere chromatic exercise or metaphorical inquiry. Yasuda’s paintings create meditative, durational and ameliorative “atmospheres” that evoke an otherwise intangible dimension of the human experience.1 Most of Yasuda’s paintings begin as wooden panels that undergo an extended process of physical transformation. The edges of the panels are carved into carefully considered but improvisational and gradually curving forms. An initial layer of paint is then applied and subsequently covered with a thin translucent fabric, on which the artist adds a second, third or up to thirty thin


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layers of paint. What would traditionally be the support surface for the pigment, the fabric, is instead suspended between two layers of paint, creating an infinite matrix of minute crossing threads that serve as receptors of light. Yasuda has noted that, “In the fabric, I find that when each thread crosses, it creates a tiny, tiny focal point, and this is a combination of millions of them making up a kind of light situation.”2 The result is an area that is activated by the application of light and engages with the viewer as he or she moves around the painting. This is most prominent in works such as Eos (p. 30), an expansive horizontal painting with a shimmering golden-gray glow. In this, as in many of Yasuda’s works, the artist seems to render visible parts of the optical spectrum that lie just beyond human vision. While light is central to the activation of the surface of his paintings, many of Yasuda’s works actually appear as if they are illuminated from within or behind from some hidden power source. 3 The vertical fiery glow at the center of the diptych Lifeline (p. 25) is cleaved by two undulating and adjoined carved edges. Dominated by the radiant “break-of-day” yellow and surrounded on either side by a disintegrating gray-blue, the adjacent lapping

edges of the painting fill it with the gentle wavelike movement of water. Indeed, we can imagine the peaks of these carved edges in motion, traveling the vertical length of the painting and helping to dissipate the cold gray fog to reveal the blazing golden light throughout the work. Yasuda’s carved edges are a hallmark of the artist’s work and derive from his investigations into breaking the confines of the rectangle as well as his early days as a young man in Hawaii in the mid- to late 1950s when he worked shaping surfboards. This affinity to surfboard shapes (which has been superficially noted by others) must be understood in context. The subtleties of surfboard shaping are infinite with endless variations that create the finished shape of the board. These variables include the rocker curve (the overall curve of the board), the rail shape (or curvature and shape of the edge), channeling along the bottom, and the nose and tail shape, width and contour. All of these elements must work harmoniously together to not only optimize performance but also provide an ineffable experience for the rider. The entire process requires the shaper to work in an intuitive, unscientific and perhaps even an alchemical way.


the painting. Yasuda’s alchemy is found in the carves and curves of works such as Glide (p. 29), a frequent term of surf vernacular, and Gulfstream (p. 23), with its oceanic suggestion of deep emerald green. The same care, nuance and understanding in shaping the rocker, rail, nose and tail are found in all of Yasuda’s paintings. With every variation comes an entirely new set of characteristics, and each one carries with it distinct and nuanced attributes. That is not to suggest that these works in any way represent a surfboard or surfing, but by their expansive panoramic format Glide, Gulfstream and even Eos remind us how easily a horizon or a landscape can be implied.

Artist in his studio, 2013

Just as the subtle adjustments in the shape of a surfboard can cause significant changes in its handling characteristics, so too with Yasuda’s paintings a small flare, carved point or slightly rounded edge, can have transformative changes in the characteristics of

Yasuda’s shaped paintings have clear cultural sources in his upbringing in Hawaii, but they also come from his decades-long search to make them come off the wall, break into the space and eschew the planarity of conventional painting. In the 1970s Yasuda constructed a group of works beginning with an installation at the Betty Parsons Gallery in which the painting was an actual wall that was cantilevered into the space. It was a blurring of the lines between architecture, installation, painting and sculpture and over the next few years, he created similar works at the Corcoran Museum, PS1,

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Leaning Wall, 1975, acrylic on wallboard, Betty Parsons Gallery, 12 x 26 feet

Double Oblique, 1979, polymer and museum dust on wallboard, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 10 x 30 feet

the Clocktower, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. As early as 1979, the artist noted: “The angled divergence from vertical frontality opened new possibilities for distortion. A viewer’s physical reaction to a nonvertical frontal plane became an interesting issue.”4 These experiments laid the foundation for his current spatial explorations.

Nearly twenty years ago, the artist began incorporating frame elements into his works. For Yasuda, the frame has become more than an adornment or a decorative element. It functions in several different ways and has come to play a central role in the process of creation. His frames may serve as a lintel or embrace the work on top and bottom, while others function as an “incomplete frame”


that surrounds the painting on three sides. Using the frame to highlight incompleteness dates back to the 1980s when Yasuda was exploring new directions in the relationships between his work and the spaces in which it was shown. In a 1990 interview, he stated that: “Somehow it [the frame] would misbehave and not come in, to try to make the frame active rather than passive or try to make the frame not something to just push the space.”5 As time progressed the frames became increasingly less “frame-like” and more sculpturally integrated into the work as a whole. In Threshold (p. 19) and Synonym (p. 37) the frame is a long carved wooden element perched on the top edge of the painting. A board slightly upturned at the ends most reminiscent of the torii gate, a traditional Japanese gate found at the entrance to a Shinto shrine, these types of frames also enable Yasuda an anchor upon which to “hang” the paintings. While it would be misleading to simply suggest that Yasuda’s frames are manifestations of his Japanese heritage or an adaptation of the torii gate, they do share some undeniable affinities with this important Japanese cultural icon. In the Shinto faith, the gate is intended to serve an important transition from the everyday world, or profane space, to the sacred realm. It is a doorway through which one passes to reach a different space. In Yasuda’s paintings the frames function in a similar

way by demarcating the windows or portals through which the viewer may pass and enter into a world of infinite nuance, color, luminescence and space. These frames, of course, also serve a practical purpose by visually anchoring the painting to the wall and, in some cases, providing a rail upon which the painting actually appears to hang. They are part of the overall composition and can even provide ballast to various elements such as the carved bottom of Origins (p. 6). In Aurora (p. 15), however, the frame encompasses three sides of the painting and serves as a type of incomplete support surface on which the painting is placed. As suggested by the title, Aurora is an earthly nimbus rooted in the physical world and the incomplete frame helps underscore the physicality of the painting. Perhaps the most sculptural of Yasuda’s recent frames is found in Trio (p. 35). Comprised of two fabric-covered painted panels and one long stained wooden element at the far left, this work becomes a metaphorical signal flag as the two paintings appear to hang at the top and perhaps even flutter in the wind. Luminous chromaticism has become another of Yasuda’s hallmarks and is realized by his use of iridescent and pearlescent paints that shift in the light. That does not mean, however, that a tenebrous side does not sometimes

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emerge and several paintings here recall the nocturnal explorations of artists such as Albert Pinkham Ryder, Ralph Albert Blakelock or even James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Indeed, as the titles of two of Yasuda’s paintings suggest, Signal (p. 21) and Trace (p. 27), the infinite depth of the dark blue-green is broken only by a small area of burnt sienna that could be a distant light or a reflection on the water or perhaps the afterimage of a bright flash. With a nearly imperceptible curvature of the edges, both paintings transform into a moving nocturnal experience and one that reminds us of Whistler’s evocative Nocturne in Black and Gold. 12

Robert Yasuda’s paintings come from a very personal place and are equal parts formal investigation and metaphor for moments of the human experience. To return to the question posed at the beginning of this essay, the artist’s paintings are indeed calming to the eye, and may provide, if only temporarily, a respite to the cacophony of contemporary existence. They cannot be digested quickly; only through prolonged looking or extended reflection do they truly begin to give back to the viewer. And, in opposition to so much art today, they are also sincerely and remarkably beautiful. They require a visual investment and must be truly seen and not simply looked at. Only then does the viewer realize that their efficacy is found in Robert Yasuda’s slow reveal. —New York, December 2013

Marshall N. Price received his Ph.D. in art history from the Graduate Center, the City University of New York, and has written and lectured widely on American art of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. From 1998 to 2002 he was assistant curator at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Since 2003, Dr. Price has been at the National Academy Museum in New York where he is the curator of modern and contemporary art. 1 2 3 4 5

See Robert C. Morgan, “The Phenomenology of Robert Yasuda” in Robert Yasuda. Exh. cat. New York: Elizabeth Harris Gallery, 2004, n.p. A Visit with Bob Yasuda: An Interview by James Carroll. Kutztown, PA: New Arts Program, 1999, 9. See Jonathan Goodman, “Robert Yasuda,” Art in America 90 (December 2002), 110–111. Also, Edward Leffingwell, “Robert Yasuda,” Art in America 92 (December 2004), 142 Judith Russi Kirshner, Wall Painting. Exh. cat. Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1979, 19. A Visit with Bob Yasuda, 5.


Robert Yasuda’s studio, 2014, New York


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AURORA

2013, acrylic on fabric on wood, 37 x 41 inches


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BOTANIKOS

2013, acrylic on fabric on wood, 84 x 72 inches


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THRESHOLD

2013, acrylic on fabric on wood, 43 x 44 inches


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SIGNAL

2013, acrylic on fabric on wood, 55 x 34 inches


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GULFSTREAM

2013, acrylic on fabric on wood, 35 x 80 inches


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LIFELINE

2013, acrylic on fabric on wood, 84 x 72 inches


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TRACE

2013, acrylic on fabric on wood, 39 x 30 inches


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GLIDE

2013, acrylic on fabric on wood, 19 x 66 inches


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EOS

2013, acrylic on fabric on wood, 25 x 95 inches


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MUSE

2013, acrylic on fabric on wood, 40 x 30 inches


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TRIO

2012, acrylic on fabric on wood, 68 x 45 inches


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SYNONYM

2011, acrylic on fabric on wood, 43 x 47 inches


CURRICULUM VITAE Born in Lihue, Hawaii, November 14, 1940 Lives and works in New York City EDUCATION M.F.A., Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York B.F.A., Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York HONORS & AWARDS American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase Award National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Fellowship Grant-Painting John Hay Whitney Foundation Grant 38

TEACHING Professor of Painting and Drawing, Long Island University, Greenvale, New York New York Institute of Technology, Westbury, New York SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS 2014 Make Haste Slowly (Isogaba Maware – Japanese Proverb), Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York 2012 David Lusk Gallery, Memphis 2010 Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York 2008 David Lusk Gallery, Memphis 2006 Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York 2005 David Lusk Gallery, Memphis 2004 Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York 2003 David Lusk Gallery, Memphis 2002 Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York 2000 David Lusk Gallery, Memphis 1999 New Arts Program, Kutztown, Pennsylvania

1998 Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York 1997 Ledbetter Lusk Gallery, Memphis 1996 Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York 1993 Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York 1990 Julian Pretto Gallery, New York 1987 Koplin Gallery, Los Angeles 1984 Betty Parsons Gallery, New York 1982 Marianne Deson Gallery, Chicago Koplin Gallery, Los Angeles 1981 Betty Parsons Gallery, New York Hoshour Gallery, Albuquerque, New Mexico 1980 Thomas Babeor Gallery, La Jolla, California 1979 Betty Parsons Gallery, New York Gallery December, Dusseldorf, Germany 1977 Betty Parsons Gallery, New York 1975 Betty Parsons Gallery, New York 1970 Long Island University, Brookville, New York 1969 Galerie Bischofberger, St. Moritz, Switzerland 1968 Galerie Bischofberger, Zurich SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS 2014 Nation II at the Alamo, Sideshow Gallery, Brooklyn, New York 2013 Surface Tension, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York Sideshow Nation, Sideshow Gallery, Brooklyn, New York Summer Group Show, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York 2012 Emergence & Structure, Richard A. and Rissa W. Grossman Gallery, Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania; MDC Freedom Tower Gallery, Miami Dade College, Miami; University Gallery, University of Florida, Gainesville 2011 Facing East: Contemporary Asian Art, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York Private Memphis, Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis


2010 Rasa: Contemporary Asian Art, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Beverly Hills/Hong Kong The Reason for Hope, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Beverly Hills/New York Landscape: Real and Imagined, McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas 185th Annual: An Invitational Exhibition of Contemporary American Art, National Academy Museum, New York 2009 Here and Now, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Hong Kong 2008 Invitational Exhibition, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY; Purchase Award in Painting In Your Mind’s Eye, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Hong Kong 2007 Winter Selections, J. Johnson Gallery, Jacksonville Beach, Florida Surface Impressions, Islip Art Museum, East Islip, New York 2005 Galleria Miralli, Viterbo, Italy Abstract Painters, J. Johnson Gallery, Jacksonville Beach, Florida Honolulu to New York, The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu 2003 Summer Color, Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York 2001 Monochrome/Monochrome?, Florence Lynch Gallery, New York David Lusk Gallery, Memphis 1998 Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York 1997 After the Fall: Aspects of Abstract Painting Since the 1970s, The Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, Snug Harbor Cultural Center, New York 1995 Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York 1993 6 Abstract Artists, Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York 1992 Slow Art: Painting in NY Now, The Institute for Contemporary Art, Long Island Stark Gallery, New York 1991 Small Scale Works, Julian Pretto Gallery, New York 1990 Julian Pretto Gallery, New York 1988 Reveal, Koplin Gallery, Los Angeles 1986 Wall Constructions, Cutler-Schreiber Gallery, New York Inaugural Exhibition, Cutler-Schreiber Gallery, New York

1985 Craig Cornelius Gallery, New York 8 x 10, Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Hagerstown, Maryland 1984 A More Store, Jack Tilton Gallery, New York Olympic Exhibition, Koplin Gallery, Los Angeles Hundreds of Drawings, Artists Space, New York 1983 Group II, Betty Parsons Gallery, New York Rouge et Noir, Hoshour Gallery, Albuquerque, New Mexico CAP Gallery, Houston A More Store, Jack Tilton Gallery, New York 1982 Betty Parsons Gallery, New York 1981 Betty Parsons Gallery, New York A Painting Show, Marianne Deson Gallery, Chicago 1980 Betty Parsons Gallery, New York Heath Gallery, Atlanta Drawings from the Collection of Milton Brutten and Helen Herrick, Ben Shahn Galleries, Wayne, New Jersey Lowe Art Gallery, Syracuse University, New York 1979 Drawing, Hal Bromm Gallery, New York Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo Curated by Betty Parsons, Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles 1978 Betty Parsons Gallery, New York Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana Hal Bromm Gallery, New York 1977 Projects, PS1 Museum, Long Island City, New York Worcester Art Museum, Maryland Arte Fiera 77, Bologna 1976 Betty Parsons Gallery, New York This is Not a Work of Art, Parsons-Truman Gallery, New York 1975 Parsons-Truman Gallery, New York Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York 1970 Allan Stone Gallery, New York 1969 Galerie Bischofberger, Zurich 1968 Prospect 68, Dusseldorf, Germany Fordham University, New York

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SELECTED COLLECTIONS Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach Brooklyn Museum, New York Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Chase Manhattan Bank, New York The Craftool Collection, New York The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Long Island University, Brookville, New York Mr. Hans Mayer Collection, Zurich The Museum of Modern Art, Phoenix, Arizona The New York Public Library, New York Mr. Gifford Phillips Collection, New York Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York Prudential Insurance Company The State Foundation for the Arts, Honolulu Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX 40

TWO-PERSON EXHIBITION 2005 Galleria Miralli, Viterbo, Italy (with Judith Murray) SPECIAL PROJECTS: PAINTING INSTALLATIONS (ROOM & SITE-SPECIFIC) 2001 Oceanic, nine-panel site-specific permanent installation, Key West, Florida 1985 The Anchorage Exhibition, large painting installations, Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage, New York 1983 Bayou Exhibition, room painting installation, Houston Art Fair 1982 Wall Size Works, painting installation, Freedman Gallery, Albright College, Reading, Pennsylvania 1981 Gallery painting installation, Betty Parsons Gallery, New York 1980 Albuquerque Sight-Line, three-room painting installation, Hoshour Gallery, Albuquerque, New Mexico Sculpture at the Coliseum, free-standing painting installation, New York Coliseum Pompton Road, two-painting installation, Ben Shahn Galleries, William Paterson College, Wayne, New Jersey

Cabrillo Point 10/29, two-room painting installation, Thomas Babeor Gallery, La Jolla, California 1979 Wall Painting—Ryman, Hafif, Pozzi, Jackson, Yasuda, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago Great Big Drawing Show, drawing installation, PS1 Museum, The Institute for Contemporary Art, Long Island City, New York 1977 Special Project, 35th Biennial Exhibition, free-standing painting installation, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC 1976 Double Oblique, The Clocktower, The Institute for Contemporary Art, New York Rooms, Inaugural Exhibition, two-room painting installation, PS1 Museum, The Institute for Contemporary Art, Long Island City, New York 1975 Leaning Wall, painting installation, Betty Parsons Gallery, New York SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 2010 Doug McClemont, “Robert Yasuda at Sundaram Tagore”, ARTnews, September, p. 109 2006 Michael Brennan, “Robert Yasuda”, The Brooklyn Rail, October, p. 26 2004 Edward Leffingwell, “Robert Yasuda at Elizabeth Harris”, Art In America, December 2002 Jonathan Goodman, “Review”, Art News, June 1999 James Carroll, “A Visit with Bob Yasuda”, New Arts Program, Kutztown, PA, catalogue 1996 Pepe Karmel, “Review,” The New York Times, February 16, p. C24 1994 Judd Tully, “Luminous Illusion”, Cover Magazine, March, p. 15 1985 Amy Virshup, “Moving Experiences”, New York Magazine, May Kim Levin, “Art in the Anchorage”, The Village Voice, May 21 1983 Alan Artner, “Best Solo Shows”, Chicago Tribune, Jan 2 1982 Alan Artner, “Robert Yasuda”, Chicago Tribune, June 10 Kathleen Shields, “Robert Yasuda- Albuquerque SightLine”, Art Space, Spring 1979 Hilton Kramer, “Review”, The New York Times, March 24


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Robert Yasuda