Curated by Deb Thompson
Consanguinity, Rachel Yoder’s newest body of work is a visual embodiment of the painters thinking and experience with regard to her artistic practice and development over the past decade. The artist’s journey in creating the composite paintings of Consanguinity has been a reductive one, consisting largely of sorting through the multiple formal elements that are the vocabulary of a painter in order to coalesce the elements essential to fashioning a unique visual language of her own. In creating Consanguinity Yoder has set limitations for herself such as the size of the canvas, the choice of colours used and the grid like structure of the imagery, limitations much like those that might structure a form of union such as a marriage. It is within these agreed upon limitations that the artist has found a freedom to ponder the subtle and dynamic nuances of consanguinity or relatedness.
A close survey of Rachel Yoder’s paintings over the past ten years reveals the artist orbiting around what we might refer to as an interiority or a structuring of internal reality in her work. Paradoxically, as Yoder has moved deeper into her interiority her work has become more universal and accessible to the viewer. Over the past ten years Yoder’s imagery has shifted from representational paintings of household interiors to nonrepresentational or abstract imagery of her more recent geometric paintings. As with her earlier work and so with the current work presented here, colour carries the conceptual weight of the work. And colour, as it turns out is well suited for such a task.
For both the artist and viewer, colour is a dynamic formal element in visual language. Every colour has three properties, that of its value (tone), hue (red, green, blue …) and intensity (or brilliance). When these properties are contrasted or juxtaposed they create movement and offer tonal insinuations much like musical notes. Painter and art theorist, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) in his landmark manifesto, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1914) writes of the relationship of colour to music and the common potential of both to express human emotion. In their bold inquiries into colour, Kandinsky and other painters of his era led the way to the emancipation of colour from its material object and the beginnings of what we now know as abstract art.
Contemporaneous with Kandinsky was Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) who began his career as a landscape painter forming his ideas on the heels of the colour theory established by the French Impressionists. Influenced by Cubism, around 1912 Mondrian started to break up his subject into flat dashes of colour. This isolation of colour eventually lead to his revolutionary abstract art, for example, Broadway Boogie Woogie (1943) with its flattening of the picture plane, emphasis on colour and abstract grid structure epitomizes the work being done by early abstract painters and carries with it an overt relationship to music.
Yoder’s understanding of geometry and her ability to think in abstract terms perhaps comes from her many years of experience as a carpenter, thus the dividing up of space into repetitive geometric units is a practice Yoder is very familiar with in her work. Ancient Greek philosophers believed that a certain organization of geometry was necessary for the creation of beauty. They applied this idea of beauty called The Golden Mean to all their artistic endeavours from architecture to painting to sculpture. For many years Yoder’s paintings were held in an external frame structure. In Consanguinity, she has abandoned the need for an outer frame allowing the inner geometry of her pieces to emerge providing the artist with an opportunity to explore the creation of visual harmony through her artistic practice.
In Consanguinity, Yoder uses colour contrasts to create movement in both the individual paintings and the installation as a whole. In particular, she uses complementary pairs and analogous groupings as ways of generating varying dynamics within her work. Yoder places complementary pairs such as red/green, yellow/purple and orange/blue in close proximity creating jarring dyads of colour. Compare this to her clustering of analogous colours (close in hue) such as the panels of yellow/yellow-orange/ orange-red sections where hue and tonal changes are more subtle -seeming almost as one – and are playfully laid out by the hands of the artist toying with this game of relatedness.
On another note, when two contrasting coloured shapes meet in a painting they form a third element, that of a line. This line is for Yoder the overlap of what she calls the major and minor aspects of the panel. This consistent bar of merged colour forms both the place of union and of separateness that is the essence of the project. Yoder’s sometimes vertical, sometimes horizontal line is reminiscent of the zipper paintings of American abstract painter Barnett Newman. In particular his pivotal piece Onement ( 1948), which referenced his relationship to Jewish mysticism and the concept of atonement or obtainment of union between opposites. Yoder’s methodical process of layering multiple coats of colour across the surface of the canvas suggests a meditative like activity that is in line with the work of Abstract Expressionist painter Agnes Martin (1912-2004) whose delicate and luminous abstractions, curiously also in a square format, are cause for contemplation. Like wise, Yoder’s installation Consanguinity calls for a contemplation of both our perceptions of colour and our notions of relatedness.
Rachel Yoder is an abstract painter living in a mountain valley near Nelson, BC. She began painting intensely coloured canvases in the early 2000’s.
Restricted, repeating structure is a major component of her work. She combines the strength of grids and blocks with depth of colour, to create canvases that are concerned with creating space and movement. Yoder is fascinated by the way the brain organizes visual information into figure and ground, and she uses that in making non-representational paintings. She explores the ways in which colour differences, contrast, tone and hue affect response and interpretation.
Yoder uses wooden stretcher frames covered with a thin skin of plywood, making a stable, rigid surface. These are covered with canvas and painted with acrylics using drywall knives to scrape paint and spread thinned layers. She works with the transparency of glaze-like thinned colour, combining it with more opaque colour, to build structure that has a complexity of depth and visual texture.
“ …colour behaviour can be compared to human behaviour. People, like colours, have one appearance when they are alone, another when they are with a group of family members whom they resemble physically and psychologically, and yet another when they are surrounded by strangers. Their relatives often mitigate their distinctiveness, while foreign visitors can intensify the dominance of certain characteristics by contrast. Even if people themselves do not change, our view of them, just like our perceptions of colours, varies according to their surroundings.” – Nicholas Fox Weber
I have been painting for 10 years and my interest has gradually focussed on colour and grid. These two elements are related to what I have done for the last 30 years of my life.
I was a colour photographic printer for 5 years and I have been a journeyed carpenter framing houses for the past 25 years. In painting, I gradually became more interested in exploring ways to understand how the brain works, how it perceives colour and how it responds to colours in different contexts. I have also been evolving ways to occupy an abstract, non-representation form. I have worked at stripping my painting of detail and limiting my choices. I want to reveal colour and form and grapple with truth. I want to paint solid forms, trying to touch the sublime while working away from the individual towards the timeless and universal.
I have worked with colour in planes and blocks and grids. The grid serves me as a place to hang colour and meaning and is familiar from my construction experience. I am trying to get much out of simple elements, as I did when working with lumber and plywood in framing houses. As I apply thin layers of paint, the colour builds to an intense depth.
I was married last fall and ran across the concept of consanguinity, which means related by blood, or generation, too closely related to marry. Thinking about the concepts of very closely related and generation made me want to apply those ideas to colour. I wanted to take away as many elements as it was possible to remove from these paintings, so everything would be in close relationship; there wouldn’t be a lot of variation. The idea is to force a close examination. With fewer elements, the ones you have, can and need to be examined more closely. Consanguinity is about looking at the paintings and the willingness, or need, or desire to contemplate.