Block Hub Spoke
Acrylic and mixed media on panel
16" x 16" - 2011
A couple of years ago I was introduced to the artist, Paul Yanko, who came to South Carolina to teach at The South Carolina Governor's School of the Arts. I taught for this program during the early years when it was strictly a summer program for artistically gifted students so I was very interested in what approach he took to his personal work. I was really excited when I saw the work, as it is dynamic, loose and tight all at once and it has a visual presence I relate to.
I believe you will find many things to relate to regarding his approach to his work even though you may work in a medium other than paint. Be sure and check out the links at the end of the article to see where you can view this work in person.
Block Hub Spoke
Paul: Extending back to my graduate studies at Kent State University, the vocation of teaching has always paralleled my studio practice. The experience of teaching, particularly foundation level courses, has reinforced my knowledge of the elements and principles of design, basic color theory, drawing fundamentals, etc. I analyze student projects on a regular basis and prepare presentations containing examples of selected images that support some particular aspect of design. A formal analysis and critique of student work and works by master artists occupies a large component of an art department curriculum. My academic career has kept me more closely in touch with these concepts than other careers such as construction work would. As I work in the studio, the residual experience of teaching remains and I make decisions that are informed by sustained contact with these concepts.
Box Module Angle
Acrylic and mixed media on panel
12" x 12" - 2010
I would consider myself to be a reluctant formalist; I don't have a color-wheel posted on the wall and I don't rigorously work out strategies for the execution of a series of works. All bets are off once I exit the classroom setting and enter the studio. I consider process as a way to counterbalance a more regimented approach to developing work. My process allows for chance and accident to inform outcomes. Imagery in my work evolves over time through a process of layering and shifting registration of shapes. Each session ends with a solution to problems and opens with a response to the previous day's actions. There is something very meditative to this way of working that is more akin to the process of weaving, for example.
Terry: Tell us about your development as an artist and how your interest in geometric abstraction developed.
Paul: From a very young age I've maintained an interest in mark-making, color, and tactile qualities inherent in various types of painting media. I consider myself to be a visual person; my orientation and relation to surroundings is very heavily biased toward my sense of vision. As I reflect on my learning style, I would consider myself to be a "visual learner", although I don't think that categories of learning styles were recognized then as they are now. My mother and her father were always highly supportive of my interests and were very committed to exposing me to work in museums and books. At home, I claimed a large portion of attic space as a place to paint, draw, and build things. I also took art lessons, mostly in painting, on Saturday mornings for a period of time. I had some exposure to art in elementary school, but tightening budgets restricted projects from moving beyond the use of very basic materials. Middle school marked a significant turning point for me in my development. I was fortunate enough to have had an instructor, Bob Yalch, who held an MFA in Photography and taught evening courses at the university located in my hometown. He was an accomplished artist and a very innovative teacher who cultivated my interest and challenged me to work as hard as possible. It was during this period that I began to form some sense of identity as a creative person.
My art instructor in high school was also very rigorous and became very invested in my progress. In my junior year, he issued a drawing project based on abstracting a selected image in a cubist manner. This was my first exposure to the concept of abstraction and I really embraced the process of distilling information down to a more reductive vocabulary of shapes. That project lodged with me; even though it seemed very difficult at first! In college, I continued to embrace projects that were based on strategies of abstraction. I was taught how to use masking techniques at this time by my foundation design professor, Barbara Stanczak. Her husband Julian is a prominent Op Art painter who relies on the use of taping and carefully calibrated color mixtures. Barbara's discussion of his work and his process introduced me to contemporary abstraction in a very personal manner that I connected with.
Works in progress
Terry: I understand that you begin each work with a line structure that you then develop through fracturing and then layering the surface of the painting. From this beginning, how "set" is the development of the work?
Paul: I don't work from highly refined preliminary studies. Occasionally, I create a few quick b&w or color thumbnails as reference. The development of the work is actually very fluid in the early stages. I don't have an interest in working toward a specific image and I remain more engaged with relying only on an established set of techniques, along with a general procedure, to create work. I begin with the use of a larger brush, typically a round or a flat, to loosely start a grid over the entire surface of the panel or canvas. These marks establish a kind of matrix, or netting, within which I can start to create configurations of shapes. The size of the gridded units corresponds proportionally to the size of the work. My color choices and decisions about shape become much more specific and exacting as the piece progresses toward completion and becomes more honed.
Paul shares a studio space with his wife, painter Enid Williams.
Terry: Do you ever work in mediums other than paint? If so, what does this contribute to your overall body of work:
Paul: I have worked with an extensive range of paints and other types of wet media, but I have rarely worked in other mediums such as clay, or metal. Over the years I have used traditional oils and acrylics, latex paint, oil-based enamels, acrylic ink and sign paint. For a period of about four years, I created a series of small mosaics out of paint chips that I reclaimed from one of my own paintings. I lost interest in completing the paintings and became more occupied with cutting the canvas up into small, fairly uniform, pieces to recombine into a series of works on panel. As a direct result of that experience, I have begun to use collage elements more extensively in the newer works. I obtain collage elements from materials that I have personally collected over the years and use them to build surface and hold paint. My surfaces have become much more physical and possess a low to medium relief quality. In what seems like a natural progression, I have recently started working on small sculptural works using painted pieces of wood.
Paul at work in his studio.
Terry: Are there other artists in your family?
Paul: Until I am willing to pay steep fees to Ancestry.com to trace my lineage in Europe prior to the early 1900's, I can say at this point that there are no other formally trained artists in my family. I know that my maternal grandfather was always engaged in some sort of creative activity outside of work. He faux-finished cabinetry in his home, refinished furniture, and enjoyed lettering, drawing, and carving; he was self-taught and maintained a lifelong interest in varied types of creative activities. He encouraged me to draw and provided me with scrap materials (wood, string, wire, etc.) to use for constructing objects derived from my imagination. My mother was a kindergarten teacher for most of her professional career and maintained a lifelong interest in film and theater. Throughout her teaching career she was very committed to developing creative lesson plans for her students. Her classroom was also very bright, colorful, and stimulating for students to work in.
Terry: What habits have you developed that you feel support your studio practice?
Paul: One of my undergraduate painting professors at the Cleveland Institute of Art remarked to me that I approached my projects in a workman-like style. He wasn't being derisive, just sharing an insight with me after having spent weeks in class observing my practice. My experiences of holding down summer jobs prior to and during my college studies established a template for the manner in which I organized my efforts in the studio. Now that I have been teaching full-time for many years, the 8-5 regimen has been reinforced even more. Ideally, I like to begin a studio session at about 8:00 a.m., break at noon for lunch and return to work until about 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. Some sessions are more productive than others, but I believe that consistency, or what artists/writer Mira Schor refers to as "maintaining the ecology of the studio", is critical. Some sessions might only amount to cleaning and organizing materials, but even being away for a week leaves me feeling disconnected.
Terry: Fantasy Question: You are a Time-Traveler and you can go back in time to study with anyone on any topic. What might you study and who would you choose as your mentor?
Paul: While it would be very difficult to select one person to study a given topic with, I can only imagine that the rates for time-traveling have gone up! I would be inclined to spend time studying hieroglyphics with a scribe in ancient Egypt. I am fascinated with the beauty of the characters and with their ability to be used phonetically and ideographically.
Paul's work can currently be seen at:
Proximity Gallery in Cleveland , Ohio
Abstract Art In South Carolina - South Carolina State Museum, Columbia, SC
To see and read more about Paul, please visit: http://www.paulyanko.net/index.html
Thank you Paul for sharing your responses and your work! I will soon be introducing you to another exciting and accomplished painter, Enid Williams....who happens to be married to Paul.
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