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Robert Yoder: How stories became paintings

Notwithstanding his striking show “JAME6,” currently at Frosch & Portmann, Robert Yoder told me he had been angry and depressed last year and that painting didn’t help. “So I collaborated on short stories instead,” he wrote in a recent email from his homebase in Seattle where he runs SEASON. “Writing seemed like a better way to get some ideas out. In these stories I can get to the core of the idea I’ve been working with in the studio.” An interview with writer Derek McCormack struck a cord. “He says things about growing up way better than I can. I grew up in the south and ‘came of age’ during the early 80�s in a very conservative area. Signs and symbols (from clothing, music, etc.) took on another layer of meaning for me.”

[Image at top:Robert Yoder, JAME6 Buckeye, 2016, oil on cotton and polyester tee shirt,50 x 28 inches]

In the interview, McCormack says:

I spent so much time looking for signs as a kid, because there was so little out there, and then even the people who were out there when I was growing up — oh, David Bowie is. He wasn’t! I wonder if it’s an older generation who’s just trained to care about signs and signals and references and secret things.

Here’s an excerpt of some of the evocative short fiction of Yoder’s that led him to the “JAME6” series of paintings.

Recently, my attention span is shit. I got a little too stoned before I left my apartment tonight and already I know I’m gonna be late meeting Serp at his studio. He owes me a lot of coke and he knows to just wait until I get there or his solo show may unfortunately reschedule for August. My wandering eye has decided I’d rather stalk these most beautiful hands attached to some clone kid I saw while in line mumbling my cigarette purchase. Baggy Champion shorts with pink freshman-fifteen legs shuffling out of them and a wannabe baller shirt for some team he cares about. Without looking like I’m looking, all I can read is JAME6 on the back of his tee. I know nothing about sports and even less about popular movies but I can fake my way through casual cocktail conversation, it comes with my job. JAME6 is buying a Red Bull, a Snickers bar and a fifth of cheap vodka and I’m getting hard thinking about his dinner combination. I invent a reason to linger over a display of lighters while he pockets his change. Everyone that works here knows I’m almost always stoned and slow so they quit paying attention to me months ago. My confidence comes from my ability to be invisible, nobody cares about me and I don’t give them a reason to.

JAME6 leaves and turns left. So do I. I imagine his right hand holding all that potential energy and his left hand in his pocket, playing with his other potential energy. My hand is in my pocket too, keeping my keys quiet as I match his pace and watch his calf muscles slightly touch the hem of his shorts with every step. I remember K used to wear those stupid sport shorts and my knees give a little and I feel like I can’t breath. I’m leaning on someone’s townhouse hoping that I’m not having another panic attack; goddam JAME6 has long disappeared.

It has been two years and I just wish I could remember anything that happened. I turn back to go meet Serp. I need my blow”.


Robert Yoder, JAME6 Ruehl, 2015, oil on cotton tee shirts, 31 x 40 inches


Robert Yoder, JAME6 Champion, 2015, oil on tee shirts, 52 x 44 inches


Robert Yoder, JAME6 Redbull, 2015, oil on cotton tablecloth, 37 x 23 inches

In his artist statement, Yoder explains how the story informs his enigmatic new images: letters and numbers drawn on tee-shirts, table cloths, and other household textiles that have been torn, deconstructed, and heavily lacquered with gesso to make them board-stiff.

The ability to connect with another person, either physically or emotionally or through a fantasy, is interesting to me. My current studio work is an investigation of my emotional and physical fantasies. The resulting confusion from blending a fantasy with a reality creates a bastard belief system that sums up my indifference while producing more questions. The way private and vulnerable moments occur are what directs my making. Whether these moments are created during acts of intimacy or acts of shame are of equal non-importance. I feel as if I am on a continuous first date, one filled with fumbles and secrets and honesty.

Despite the visual clarity in “JAME6,” Yoder’s paintings sustain the enigmatic presence of his previous work. Yoder teases out the idea that our clothes appear to be emblematic of who we are, and in the end, he realizes they are simply disguises that hinder our understanding of one another. By combining writing and painting, he goes deep.

Robert Yoder: JAME6, “Frosch & Portmann, LES, New York, NY. Through May 29, 2016.

Related posts:
Who is teenage Donna? Robert Yoder @ Frosch & Portmann
Seattle Report: Studio visit with Robert Yoder


Two Coats of Paint is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To use content beyond the scope of this license, permission is required.

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