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Painter Paul Yanko is guided by guts and grids

Merge From Center

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Gallerist Anne Siegfried didn't mean to discover Paul Yanko. Six years ago she was visiting her mother in Greenville, S.C. when her mom insisted they visit The Greenville County Museum of Art. " 'There's this artist you need to see,'" Siegfried recalls, "she said 'let's just stop in.'"

"She didn't direct me in the way of Paul's piece — there was another show up — I found it on my own." Hanging at the end of a long corridor, Yanko's painting sparked something in Siegfried. "To me it's more exciting, it's more of a challenge, I like to be a little challenged in the art I enjoy."

Possessing an engineer's brain and a gardener's sensibilities, Yanko exists in a creative realm all his own. His paintings — inches thick with bright layered paint, zig zagging the eye across the canvas — are instantly recognizable, even in his most recent work, which, Siegfried says "has softened."

Yanko explains that in Snap to Grid. Migrate from Center. Deviate and Expand, he has "expanded his vocabulary by returning to elements that are more curvilinear in nature, [a technique] that I used in the late '90s, early 2000s. It was a time for me to go back and review and revisit the use of some elements that I'd worked with more commonly years ago. I had to find a way to reconcile the use of those elements with the hard edged elements that have been more characteristic of my recent work."

The new paintings, with names like "Built Stacked Framed — Pyramid Version," "Built Stacked Framed, Game Version," and "Curve Bend Hook — Version Printemps" are their own language, each piece a letter, perhaps, or an entire story. Your brain yearns to read the message — do you read it left to right, down to up? For Yanko, these titles work as poetic notes to self. The pyramid is a consistent element found throughout Yanko's oeuvre — "I'm not exactly the final word on the history of the pyramid, but I have a fascination with the history of Egypt and from my studies with art history as a student I'm interested in the form and what it means visually," says Uanko. "While the drawings might look similar, the 'pyramid version' suffix speaks to maybe a particular thought or influence in my mind when I was working on that piece that distinguishes it."

"I'm still seeing new things," say Siegfried. "There are a lot of stories happening on one canvas. There's so much energy. I see it as a positive energy, but they also tell me to contemplate them."

Deviating and expanding, Yanko's new work contains shapes beyond the fundamental line — we see ovals, circles, half of a quotation mark, fat drips of paint. And nothing is an accident.

"I think for an artist who creates like Paul, he's layering, he has an agenda before he begins. He kind of knows ahead of time where he wants to go. There are still a lot of surprises that happen along the way, but he has to also navigate the use of these materials — the really thick areas of paint, you have to take into account drying time," says Siegfried. And the slightly uneven lines? Purposeful. "He mentioned he's doing a kind of drawing technique where he's thinning out the paint, and putting it in a plastic tube, drawing from the tube; it's not meant to be totally precise. He calls it drawing — you have control but not total control."

The patience of a gardener growing a lush flower bed from mercurial soil, Yanko takes his time with his paintings, tending to each corner, nourishing the roots. "You kind of get lost in little spots," says Siegfried. "When he delivered these last weekend he could tell you the teeniest little thing, 'this is how this happened,'" she says, pointing to a diminutive space on the canvas, "this little inch has so much thought in it."

The process behind the product could be overwhelming to the layman — so many colors and shapes and what is the takeaway? What if you miss the whole point? Siegfried says the inchoate message is exactly what makes Yanko's work so special.

"You're allowed to see 10 different things today and then tomorrow see 10 different things and not know how you saw the other things before." The paintings, like a language, are infite. The stories continue, as new as a spring blossom, as ancient as the pyramids.

"It's me establishing a grid or set of lines saying 'how do I populate this?' I establish a few shapes, and then do I allow all of these to conform to the grid? And some deviate from the grid. How do I support the grid as this ancient long-standing means of organizing as part of what we do and how do I subvert it?," says Yanko. "I'm working with it and against it, and the following day I'm reacting to the previous day's decision. It's very instinctual — I have to trust what to leave and what to modify."

The George Gallery, in partnership with the South Carolina Governors' School for the Arts — where Yanko is a teacher in the Visual Arts Department — will also be hosting a closing reception and artist talk on Wed. April 25 from 5-8 p.m.; the talk will begin at 7 p.m. and hors d'oeuvres will be provided by Caviar & Bananas.

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