False Lanterns and Dark Entries: Robert Yoder at Platform Gallery
I was not familiar with the term “hobby lantern” prior to seeing Robert Yoder’s (NAP #85) new paintings. It turns out to be a phenomenon of atmospheric, apparition-like lights that appear in boggy conditions, leading travelers astray from the safest path, also known as a will-o’-the-wisp. Appearing in titles of works featured in Dark Entries at Seattle’s Platform Gallery this month, the hobby lantern is a fitting keystone for paintings rich in both the thick, muddiness of their surfaces and the emotional sensibilities that flare beneath. - Erin Langner, Seattle Contributor
In lieu of a conventional artist statement for Dark Entries, Yoder tells an anecdote about a night of getting high with a group of friends in 1979, while listening to Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. Bringing to mind that familiar effervescence of adolescent nights on the brink of adulthood, when boredom an discontent were tempered by conversations and illicit activities, Yoder’s story makes it easier to see the lighter touches subtly punctuating paintings that otherwise exude a largely somber, scarred presence. TEENAGE DONNA (DEVOTED) has the faint shimmer of high school dances behind its bleeding, black ink; UNTITLED (CHRIS AGAIN) buries the slightest smile into its webbed markings that raise above the surface like a painful, freehanded tattoo, now scarred over by damaged flesh.
In hindsight, Off the Wall was a peak of carefree pleasure within Michael Jackson’s timeline that didn’t necessarily return, and one gets the sense that the paintings in Dark Entries evoke a similarly distant past that since has receded behind a darker shroud. Yoder pointed to graveyards and drug addicts as reference points for his recent works in a video interview for Cornish College of the Arts. Framed by that context, the imprinted canvases start to read as indecipherable tombstones, the most literal form also manifesting with the most vulnerable fragility—UNTITLED (WILL), a writhing square of carpet, positioned on the floor and coated with just enough acrylic, enamel and oil to smother the textile strands into a hardened surface while the allowing the romantic flourishes of its former pattern to lightly seep through.
The other half of Dark Entries includes tintypes by Brooklyn artist Michelle Kloehn that also evoke a distant time and place, through forms that bring back a level of abstracted exploration that matches their medium’s history. Beside Kloehn’s studies, Yoder’s paintings become even more deeply personal, their titles feeling like something that would have been written on the back of an old snapshot, in an album of people lost —TEENAGE DONNA (TURNING HEADS), UNTITLED (ROB AGAIN), TEENAGE DONNA (DATSUN). The works that mention the hobby lanterns are the only paintings that are numbered as a series, and among them are glaring gaps; we get to see 1, 2, 5 and 8. It is hard not to wonder about the other numbers and whether they are simply not here, or if they went off their safe paths and were lost along the way.
Dark Entries is on view at Platform Gallery in Seattle, WA through February 1. Robert Yoder lives and works in Seattle, where he also owns and operates SEASON. He holds an MFA from the University of Washington, and his work is in over 30 public and corporate collections, including Boeing Corporation, The City of Seattle Public Art Collection, Hallmark Corporation, Henry Art Gallery, Hewlett Packard Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Tacoma Art Museum, among others. His work has recently been exhibited at Frosch & Portmann (New York, NY), Greg Kucera Gallery (Seattle, WA), Seattle Art Museum (Seattle, WA) and Froelick Gallery (Portland, OR).
Erin Langner is a writer and museum professional based in Seattle, WA.