Watching Art Grow
Sydney Yeager fit the profile perfectly. While assembling the Austin Museum of Art (AMOA) family exhibition "Patterns," Davidson had visited Yeager's studio and selected one of her lushly painted large canvases for the show. There was no question about the quality of the artist's work. Yeager teaches classes at both Austin Community College and the Laguna Gloria Art School, so she has ongoing experience answering questions about making art. For her part, Yeager was willing to accept the stipend offered by AMOA and the challenge offered by this experimental program. The museum made plans to accommodate her ongoing presence. "It's a learning process for Sydney and the staff," says Davidson.
Yeager's studio was transported -- paint, tables, turpentine, brushes, blank canvases, and work in progress -- to the upstairs gallery on the second floor of the museum and reassembled. Now, visitors may catch a glimpse of the artist wielding her brushes, squeezing tubes of paint, dancing forward and back in front of one of three or four canvases on which she's working. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10am-noon, and Saturdays, 11am-1pm, the studio is open so folks can drop by to ask Yeager questions, take note of the artist's raw materials, and watch new paintings evolve. Yeager says she doesn't actually apply paint to canvas with strangers at her elbow but is more than willing to answer their questions. She seems to thrive on the exchange. "There is more time involved in regaining focus and coming down from the adrenaline rush after the open studio hours than I anticipated," she says. The rest of the time, Yeager uses the museum studio as if it were her space in East Austin; she closes the door to keep out unwelcome distractions and paints. Of the eight-week arrangement she says, "I am realizing that I [did] not have very clear definitions of my own need for privacy. This experience is very interesting for me in that respect."
Visitors aside, is the museum a good space for working? According to Yeager, the light is beautiful, but the ceilings might be a little higher. Also, with the door closed, ventilation can be something of a problem. Otherwise, there appears to be more than enough room for the several canvases in progress and the artist's materials. In addition, there is a small seating area where Yeager can visit with guests and in another corner, space at which she can work at the computer.
As with any reproduction, the images in the virtual gallery serve better as an invitation to view the actual art or as reminders of the art you have already seen. There is no substitute for the actual experience of a work of art. However, for viewers who do not have the opportunity to view art in person, the ability to see the work on the Internet is an exciting new avenue.
I couldn't have said it better myself. After moving painstakingly from one hypertext link to the next, muttering the usual epithets at my old computer and trying to print the grainy color images I see on my monitor with an even less precise black-and-white printer, I turn off the machines and head to my neighborhood museum for one more first-hand look at the paintings. There is no substitute for being there. I know Kathryn Davidson would agree. The museum has even provided a bench in the middle of the first gallery to encourage thoughtful consideration of the artist's dense canvases.
Sydney Yeager's studio was transported to the museum and reassembled, so folks can drop by to ask Yeager questions and watch new paintings evolve.
I see a blue hand slipping into a glove, a bra, a shapely body, shapely amorphous shapes, a disembodied finger poking into a cup, other penetrations, invasions of space, hidden signs and symbols hinting at hidden meanings, lips, ears, pears, martini glasses, all lost in thick forests of paint. The full title of the exhibition is "Art in Process: Sydney Yeager -- Body/Language." Body parts abound. There is a face in profile, a woman's high heeled shoe slipping off her toe. Familiar objects and internal organs float in an unfamiliar setting, float on top of an illusion, the illusion of depth, the sure presence of pattern, a grid with soft edges, an implied alphabet. All of this in the first gallery. The second is dominated by Blackbird's Whistle, one of the artist's most recent works and one of her best. Snow softly falls on the surface, on a thumb, a dark bird, an ear, a mouth, a twig. The coloration of the painting is warm and gentle, its images and surface complex. Rubadub in the third gallery resembles a painting on window blinds or wooden slats. It is very different from its companions, I think, wondering where the couple drawn in the lower left of the painting is going, what those red ovals falling toward them represent. Red corpuscles? Yeager uses both interior and exterior body parts in her paintings. Unlike the others which encourage me to float free form along with objects and colors, this painting whispers a story which I elaborate in my head. It is positively narrative, I later tell the artist. She looks surprised, but doesn't disagree.
"I haven't finished a painting, nor would I have done so at my own studio [in only two weeks]," she says, "especially on the heels of completing this major effort." Yeager is referring to the exhibition downstairs, a sampling from about one year's production. She adds, "I anticipate finishing the paintings that I had started in the studio, and perhaps the ones I've started here, but that depends on how much time I allow the many seductive attractions here to divert my attention." I know what she means. Without allowing myself another peek into the gallery, I return to my office to finish my own work in process.
"Sydney Yeager: Art in Process" is on view through October 19 at the Austin Museum of Art, Laguna Gloria, 3809 W. 35th St. Call 495-9224 for info.
Rebecca S. Cohen is an arts writer and recovering art dealer.