Naomi Schlinke and Sydney Yeager

On the brink of change

Sydney Yeager's <i>Faulty Engineering</i>
Sydney Yeager's Faulty Engineering

Nonverbal communication – we take it for granted, much like breathing. But do we need it, as we need air? Events provide us with a break in the stream of everyday thoughts, calling on parts of our complex beings that perhaps, in the Western world, we do not use enough. Beauty, it is said, short circuits thinking briefly. Swimming at Barton Springs does, too. Abstract images offer a respite from "thinking," privileging experience by allowing a different part of our being to come to the fore. We come back to thinking again, but the track has changed, widened, and we are recharged in the process. That had me hooked on art at an early age.

Naomi Schlinke and Sydney Yeager ply the waters of abstract painting in different boats, each using different stars to navigate. Both were grounded in other disciplines before becoming painters, Schlinke in modern dance and Yeager in literature. Schlinke named their first two-person show "Turbulence" after recognizing an affinity in their different use of forms that communicates instability, chaos, and beauty in turbulent action. The turbulence found in the two bodies of work reflects philosophic differences as well as approaches to the physical process of painting. Yet for both artists, turbulence represents change and the process of becoming as much as it shows dissolution of what is – or was. Here the artists talk about painting and their points of view.

Austin Chronicle: Why do you make abstract paintings?

Sydney Yeager: The surprises that you find along the way make it worth doing.

Naomi Schlinke: The influences in my approach to painting come as much from China and Japan as the West. In traditional Chinese painting, each work is a microcosm of the macrocosm. You are not really being abstract if you are working with forces in a painting. How is that even abstract? One winds up embodying events, energy, breath.

Yeager: A lot of the things you say apply to my work, too, but my whole influence is less about the East. I look at sources that are so different: at fabrics, fashion photographs, baroque painting, landscape photographs. I am coming to the same place by a different path. I respond – after the fact – to literary references, and you do, too. I have not always worked abstractly. ... As time passed, I felt less and less inclined to verbalize every aspect of the work.

AC: In the most general terms, I see gesture in Sydney's painting and process in Naomi's.

Schlinke: I think you are right to the degree that, pictorially, I include things that are the result of this process or that. Sydney uses the brush, and [Schlinke makes a movement with her wrist] it is more closely allied with the mark the brush makes. There is the difference in the viscosity of the materials we are using: Sydney's materials are oil-based and mine are water-based.

Naomi Schlinke's <i>Breach</i>
Naomi Schlinke's Breach

Yeager: Water moves differently than oil, and you can see that in the paintings.

Schlinke: As a vehicle for pigment, you can do different things with the two mediums. If you liquefy the oil, it gets watery, but it doesn't disperse like ink. There's no stable point anywhere when you use ink.

Yeager: One of the important aspects of my work is to represent something that is not stable, that is just on the brink of change or about to degenerate into the chaotic. That's what I am interested in.

AC: Do you respond intuitively to color?

Yeager: Yes, I do work intuitively, and I don't attach meaning to the color. I don't think orange is hot or blue cool. There is no universal meaning or emotion which attaches to certain colors in my work. Something in my everyday experience influences my color choices, something in the external world.

Schlinke: Generally, I like to think color choices tend to well up as a kind of obsession – my brain says to go get orange or red or blue. I start having my own experience of my own choices, which starts unleashing the meaning process. At one point, I was using a lot of faded golds and earth tones. It felt like it was about the passage of time or oxidation, which is the same thing. That is where narrative can enter through color. In the paintings that are in the show, I held color at bay because I was engaging structure and form. Color does have meaning to me – colors have speeds, vibrations ....

AC: How do you see your use of subject matter?

Yeager: Wouldn't you separate content from subject matter? The content for me is the notion of instability and the dissolution of order. That, for a long time, has been my content. Subject matter is not present.

Schlinke: The ideal I would like to work for is to make something that radiates all kinds of possibilities of subject matter. It is like a match that can light a fire: I am more interested in the fire. I am interested in people's imaginations and how they form meaning out of anything.

"Turbulence" is on display Aug. 17-Sept. 17 in the Nancy Scanlan Art Gallery of the Helm Fine Arts Center at St. Stephen's Episcopal School, 6500 St. Stephen's Dr. For more information, call 327-1213.

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Naomi Schlinke, Sydney Yeager, Turbulence, abstract art, Nancy Scanlan Art Gallery

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