As a Korean kid growing up the ’60s in Ponca City, Oklahoma, the son of immigrant parents, James Yang always liked to draw. Back then he took a realistic approach to the American Goldfinch he sketched for a school report, careful to replicate its bright-yellow plumage, black cap, and white-edged wings. But as he developed as an artist, he adopted a stripped-down and simplified style. “It’s sort of my way of misremembering the world,” he says. “I deconstruct things and build them back in a way that makes sense to me.”
As the starting point for his interpretation of Audubon’s drawing of Wild Turkeys, Yang broke the birds down into geometric shapes and focused on the mother’s relationship with her chicks—“that’s what the art is really about,” he says. Then he gave it a cool retro look with the color blocks and minimalist morphology. Birds might not be his everyday subjects, but he likes them because they’re a metaphor for a lot of things—dreams, loss, love, coming home—and he thinks people have an emotional connection to them. No doubt Audubon thought so, too.