Van Gogh wrote, "Ah, portraiture, portraiture with the thought, the soul of the model in it, that is what I think must come.... It is one's duty to paint the rich and magnificent aspects of nature.... Do I make myself understood? I am just trying to make you see this simple great truth: one can paint all of humanity by the simple means of portraiture." Rober Yoder, in his current show at Platform Gallery, seems to exemplify van Gogh's credo. Unlike van Gogh, however, Yoder uses the portrait not to paint all of humanity but, rather, to get inside the subject, using painting to examine each individual, well, individually.
All of Yoder's works have elements of collage, and it seems the act of collage, of cutting up, has led him to a form of portrait painting that resembles dissection almost as much as documentation. From his earlier works, which were made from castaway road signs, children's building blocks, hazard tape, and magazines, he has moved into a method of painting where he begins with elements of drawing -- body parts, features, gestures, etc. -- that begin as random pictographs on the canvas; then he stitches them back together, golem fashion, through an allover abstracted painterly method. His final image, in effect, is imageless; we end with a synecdoche of a person. The canvas, with its bumps and blemishes, is a stand-in for the person depicted; an excellent example is "Untitled (Ian Again)" (2011) [above].
Like Willem de Kooning, Yoder employs oil paint for its wet sensuality. By beginning with representational drawing, then abstracting images, he is, in effect, recreating a brief history of twentieth-century painting in these works, as well. The process involves a leap of faith on our parts: what we see isn't actually what we see. Yoder's works are more about his relationship to the subject, and our trust in him must be implicit for any reading of the work to be gauged successful. Details, emerging and fading through the picture's surface, ultimately give us the clues that we need to read the paintings as something drawn from nature, not aesthetic caprice, and our patience is rewarded. What at first appears random ultimately comes together to form a resonant image.
His works on paper, such as "Teenage Donna (Released)" (2012), follow a similar logic. Like his earlier works, which resembled aerial views or maps of topographical settings, these pieces incorporate diagrammatic elements, large areas of graphite drawing, and a cut-and-paste method that borders on kink. Yoder in fact says as much: "I have recently introduced large amounts of black into the paintings. The density of these works creates a roughness and adds a punk/S/M aesthetic to the overall effect...they are graphic, hard, and unapologetic with their subject matter and intention. They are coming from an untapped place within me, a place that struggles with addiction and shame and socially unacceptable fantasies." In less capable hands this might become art-as-therapy projects, but with Yoder we are in the realm of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- smart, hardcore, and stylish. Beautiful, not pretty. - Bradley Rubenstein
Platform Gallery is at 114 Third Avenue South in Seattle, Washington.
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.