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Joseph Elmer Yoakum

by Johanna Fateman

These captivating ballpoint-and-watercolor landscapes are confident improvisations based on the American artist’s extensive travels; before his death, in 1972, he spoke of a stint with the Ringling Brothers Circus, of tours of duty as a soldier in the First World War, and of hopping trains through the American West. Autobiographical accuracy may have been as unimportant to Yoakum as pictorial verisimilitude—his capricious approach to foreshortening and other conventions of perspective resulted in beautifully disorienting compositions in which geological features do not recede into the distance but pile up in fluidly patterned layers.

A forest is an inlaid stripe across a cliff face, a river flows above ground, and a chicken is as tall as a horse. Yoakum didn't begin drawing until around 1962, at the age of seventy-two. This exhibition attests to the inspired productivity of his short career. In the more than sixty idyllic small works here, one encounters the Everglades, the English Channel, New Guinea, and the Ozarks, all rendered through his singular imagination.

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