Lisa Yuskavage: Wilderness

From a 2021 exhibition of landscapes by the figurative painter, Lisa Yuskavage (American born 1962) at the Baltimore Art Museum:  Wilderness.

 

The artist, in the tradition of Western landscape paintings, has used elements which we recognize to create landscapes which we do not know.

 

 

 

Snowman, 2008, oil on linen.

Lisa Yuskavage, American born 1962. Private loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

She has, from Museum guidance, also used techniques which are traditional.  She poses her main concentration of  figures in the foreground and scatters behind them other figures and buildings to draw our eyes into the deep background.

 

 

As to the colours the artist has used, the Museum reminds that unnatural colour shifts is a Renaissance technique (cangiantismo) to evoke light, shadow and volume especially on  holy robes or angels’ wings.

 

 

 

Baltimore Art Museum illustration accompanying this exhibition

 

 

 

The artist, of course, suffuses whole tableaux with such neon colours.  She is quoted as saying that this technique is

“a visual contrast that says something extraordinary has happened in the midst of this dull Earth.  The idea that the world is ordinary and then you have these extraordinary occurrences…..I have always been really simitten by that.”

 

 

 

 

Wilderness, 2009, oil on linen. 

Lisa Yuskavage, American born 1962. Private loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

The artist also uses elements which we do not recognize:

 

the shape of the characters whose body parts sometimes do not conform to their apparent age

 

their poses:  often louche, always histrionic, and sometimes painfully extended and exposed

 

the lack of community and communication among these figures

 

the seeming subservience of the Puritans/Handmaids who populate so many tableaux 

 

the skulls left protruding from the ground to suggest that rites of burial no longer matter

 

the emotions which we cannot read because we don’t have context.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking the Dog, 2009, oil on linen.

  Lisa Yuskavage, American born 1962. Private loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

These dissonant elements, the Musuem suggests, give this work their power because we recognize their radical alterity; and cannot easily interpret them.

 

 

The artist is also quoted as saying: 

“If you are harmonious with everything that has come before you, you are doing nothing.

 

“If you create some dissonance….it is part of your job to make people see things they don’t want to see.

 

“I do think it is part of my role to carry on discussing what it’s like to be female.  (Though) I can’t really talk about what it is like to be female.  I only know what it’s like to be Lisa.”

 

 

 

The Mound, oil on linen, 2011. 

Lisa Yuskavage, American born 1962.  Private collection on loan to the Baltimore Museum of Art

 

 

 

 

The Museum notes that the artist encourages us to create our own stories of these images.

 

 

 

 

Edge of Towners, 2011, oil on linen. 

Lisa Yuskavage, American born 1962.  Loaned by Sammlung HGN to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

However, with the two most recent paintings in this exhibition  immediately below – Landscape Painting and The Art Students –  the Museum proposes an interpretation of the artist’s intent:

 

 

Landscape juxtaposes the pale interior of a home and its flamboyant inhabitant,

with a martini close (the artist having drained its cherry of the red-red colour even though her paintings are seeded with bead-cherries of all kinds of colour)

with a luminescent landscape.  The interior cannot compete for vivacity with the neon colours outside the window.

 

It is the luminescence which dominates this tableau and the Museum notes that this is tantamount to pointing to the power of paint over everthing, including nature itself.  

 

 

 

Landscape Painting, 2019, oil on linen.

Lisa Yuskavage, American born 1962.  Private collection on loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

The Art Students is a painting about painting.  All three figures are at a different stage in painted mode. 

The figure on the ground is in charcoal and fragmentary.  The man is more solid with gray and brown tones. 

Both are painting the standing woman into existence.

The fence is the dividing line between the ‘real’ world and artistry.

 

 

 

 

The Art Students, 2017, charcoal and oil on linen. 

Lisa Yuskavage, American born 1962. Private collection on loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

These two paintings, says the Museum, point to one of the original premises of all landscape painting:

such painting provides a space for world creation, for wild imagining. 

This artist takes this to be a license for creating a world where, in the Museum’s words “people and places are entirely of her own making.”

What an artist can bring into existence in paint can be  imagined for our ‘real ‘world.

 

  

**************************

 

 

The exhibition is called Wilderness

 

It isn’t the landscapes in this artist’s paintings which are wild:  they are carefully tended.

The figures are wild.  Their behaviours, poses, expressions, porcelain teacup, ratio of men to women, homogenous race, are wild.

 

—————-

 

It is useful to imagine the altered states depicted here as a warning. Or, if we recognize our societies in any part of this, as an incentive to work towards alternative ways of living.

 

 

A proposal, however, vitiated by two things:

 

by the wild and dangerous idea that painting (or the creative imagination) has primacy over nature itself. 

 

Does anything have primacy over nature?

 

And also by the cartoon-like, comic-strip like, Instagrammable, cosmetically-enhanced, Barbie doll aspect of these figures

 

which, it seems to me, are absorbed immediately into the brain and processed one nanosecond after another into brain purgatory. Dead as dodos.

 

——————–

 

Also, I wonder frequently if the Earth is dull where sometimes something extraordinary happens, as the artist believes. 

Or if the Earth is extraordinarily lively and that we lose the ability to see this.  Until we grow old and child-like again. Or mad.

 

I seem to think that this ever-calling upon extraordinary occurrences to get us thinking and acting is a dangerously lazy idea. Wild.

 

Magical thinking and fabulistic which seems to be the rage now. 

 

————

 

 

And as to the apples – so many – in these paintings, don’t we have to be wary of the symbolism of apples?

 

Or is this one of the artist’s points?

 

And am I being unduly harsh all round?  

 

 

————————–

 

 

 

 

Afternoon Feeding, 2011, oil on linen.

Lisa Yuskavage, American born 1962. Private loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

No Man’s Land, 2012, oil on linen.

Lisa Yuskavage, American born 1962.  Private collection on loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

The Verdigris Farm, 2012,oil on linen.

Lisa Yuskavage, American born 1962.  Private collection on loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Participants, 2013,oil on linen.

Lisa Yuskavage, American born 1962.  Private collection on loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bonfire, 2013-15, oil on linen.

  Lisa Yuskavage, American born 1962.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

 

 

 

A view of a gallery, Baltimore Museum of Art, September 2021

 

 

 

 

In the Park, 2014, oil on linen. 

Lisa Yuskavage, American born 1962.  Private collection on loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Pile Up, 2015, oil on linen.

Lisa Yuskavage, American born 1962.  Private collection on loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2021

 

This extraordinary composition brought me depictions of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. 

Her skin drained to an unearthly gray from her unearthly fate, she is supported by the faithful with many women pushing towards her from our left, requesting her intercession.  The right arm of one of the women pushing is touching the void.

Red hair for the Pre-Raphaelite Mary Magdalen. Red clothing for her penitence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.