Walking into Jericho Advisors early for the unveiling of Sarah Boyts Yoder’s new solo show of mixed media work, Nothing Passes, This Too Shall Pass,” I see the artist hanging up her work with pushpins. As she pierces the paper, she explains, “I want people to reconsider the idea that it’s not valuable if you see pushpins. That without a big frame or glass, art can still be as touching if it’s just stuck to a wall. It’s more playful, less serious, in my mind.”
And in that sentence is the very essence of this artist. She's a woman not quite conflicted by serious art, but distracted from it. She continues to work on symbols — buns and suits remain in her work as they have for a few years — but now she incorporates them into collage installations, and has removed them from the larger canvases.
“I sometimes think of these symbols like comic relief from the seriousness of the abstract expressionist lean my work has," she says. "They give hints and suggestions, but they're simple and open. They're more approachable and curious and hopefully draw people in. But the way I think of them, it's trying to get at the root of abstraction. How can you break something down so simply, distill it, and quickly get your point across?"
Stumbling upon two of her older paintings propped on a wall in the back room, you can see clear markers of a transition taking place. Strong and almost loud, the use of symbols verges on jarring. In one is the very first bun she ever painted.
“The buns come from a children's book about Georgia O'Keefe I was reading with my kids. The illustrator drew the back of her head as a simple black bun — I just connected with the image. So I started drawing and painting it. Obsessively.”
Without realizing it, with this current installation Yoder has taken the images and symbols she’s so obviously inspired by and separated them from the canvas. Her fixation with buns and stripes are limited to her collages on paper, which has left free to embrace the remaining space with her larger paintings.
Her canvases have an openness that’s calming. It’s as if you can feel the artist has taken a deep breath. The canvases feel wide, with soft colors, a sense of light, and the consistent undercurrent of playfulness. There’s a hint of narrative, but it’s not as abrasive as the older works.
In one painting, what looks like a sailboat is a strawberry cone, as indicated by the title. Being able to interpret the paintings instead of being told what they are allows Yoder to embrace the narrative illustration she so adores while still being true to the abstract expressionist painter at her core.
The collages and mixed media next to the canvases are filled with repetitive iterations of the symbols. Yoder points out a piece of a striped section on one canvas and can instantly direct you to the scrap she cut it from in a collage. Having access to the artist’s process is thoroughly inviting and fascinating in terms of understanding how Yoder works evolve. While the end result of the collages alone is unimpressive — messy, loud, and scattered — the greatness they allow for in her self-described serious works is clear.
She goes back to explaining her symbols. “It's funny, when I gave into the desire to just keep repeating, it was like this whole world opened up. You wouldn't think that so much could come from the same few, simple lines. I read something recently that said a more intense focus can lead to a much-broadened scope. I really think that's true.”
And it is, though perhaps not in the way she intends. By limiting symbols to the collages, she’s able to stay inspired and allow her canvases to shine. If that’s what it takes for Yoder to create the bold canvas works that speaks in whispers and lighthearted notions, then she should continue.