Artist Tim Nickodemus immerses himself in Joseph Yoakum’s drawing practice at the Roger Brown Study Collection (RBSC) in Second Hand Land Scapes Blue Drawings after Joseph E. Yoakum. For the exhibition, Nickodemus produced a suite of drawings in response to the collection of thirty-five Yoakum works. The suite of drawings occupy a separate smaller room on the second floor of the artist/collector’s former home, that feels like a hidden space for contemplation.
Every six months, the RBSC removes their collection of Yoakum’s drawings from public view and rests them for archival purposes. Yoakum chose to work in non-archival materials including ballpoint pen, pencil and watercolor on paper that gradually fades and disappears with age. Nickodemus’ series installs thirty-five drawings in the exact frames and configuration during the scheduled absence of Yoakum’s original works. This summer marks the second cycle of this seasonal effort. For this interpretive body of work, Nickodemus generates a matrix of several reference points. In the studio, Nickodemus enacts marks partially from memory informed by repeated direct observation of Yoakum’s works. He then further incorporates visual information from image searches of topographical and geological maps based on each of Yoakum’s title locations. These generative parameters become a form of improvisation that is also an invitation into abstraction.
Nickodemus’ drawings are comprised of colored pencil in a variety of blue hues on midnight-blue wove paper. Tone on tone marks in similar values cause a vibrating and dimming effect that forces the eyes to adjust. Projecting details into the expansive negative spaces between forms is easy. Within a particular economy of descriptive marks, there is a wide variety and cross-section of landscape vantage points. Some drawings situate the viewer from a birds-eye view, while other images depict a horizon line that recedes into space, several flatten and skew landmass surface studies, yet others feature grids to imply scale or measure distance.
In Yoakum’s drawings, memory acts as the primary filter to channel direct experiences amongst landscapes lived while crisscrossing the globe. Yoakum’s hyper-specific titles and are often inscribed onto the drawing itself. The curiously enigmatic geographic locations such as, “Art Linkletter’s Ranch Near Darwin Australia” (an actual place) or “Grand Coulee Dam in Columbia River near Olympia Washington” conflate two actual locations that are approximately 300 miles apart. “Holy Hills of Canaan” may be a biblical place rather than an actual traceable geographical location. Yoakum’s biography demonstrates the artist’s mythical status, as his various jobs including Buffalo Bill’s Wild West tour in Europe and the Ringling Brothers Circus led him to visit most of the continents.
Yoakum’s work is in permanent collections such as Smithsonian, Carnegie Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago and the Whitney Museum to name a few. Living in Chicago after 1946, Yoakum was in conversation with artists who were also collectors of his work such as Ray Yoshida. Only towards the end of his life, long after he toured the world, did Yoakum begin his career as a prolific artist channeling all of his experiences into drawing. There is a consistency to the marks, lines, and forms that he uses to describe the landscape that is unmistakable.
Nickodemus traveled extensively throughout the Southwest and observed several locations that Yoakum depicts adding further depth to the interpretation of place. Both bodies of drawings are composed of a consistent economy of marks that at moments bear an uncanny resemblance to the local terrains of their namesakes, yet truth or fiction are beside the point. Perhaps the viewer automatically projects this visual information onto and into the drawn landscapes? Place memory gently skews and warps the perspective allowing interpretation to permeate the lived landscapes of both Yoakum and Nickodemus. Yoakum described his work as a “spiritual unfoldment.” Much like how a map expands or contracts, memory unfolds primary experience onto the landscape in unpredictable and idiosyncratic ways. In Yoakum’s own words he begins a drawing, “and then the place comes to him.” In a similar spirit, Nickodemus constructs a methodology of drawing to enable interpretation and improvisation of the landscape over time and across both artists’ memory. Nickodemus’ meditation and reinterpretation encourage closer and longer looking of navigated place and time where chance and intention allow the line to lead the hand.