"On Place: Physical, Imagined, Technological" by Amanda York

Added on by Lilly Hern-Fondation.

This essay was produced in conjunction with the exhibition James Yakimicki: Knitty Griddy, curated by Gregory Amenoff, on view at CUE Art Foundation from October 25 - December 6, 2018. This text is included in the free exhibition catalogue available at CUE.

[fig 1] James Yakimicki , Manhattan Projection (Prentis Hall) , 2010. Oil on canvas, 144 x 86 inches.

[fig 1] James Yakimicki, Manhattan Projection (Prentis Hall), 2010. Oil on canvas, 144 x 86 inches.

James Yakimicki’s paintings and drawings are fusions of landscapes omitting horizon lines, scale, and perspective in favor of aerial views and multiple vanishing points. His experiences living on the flat planes of central Indiana, the altitudinal heights of Boulder, Colorado, and the urban sprawl of New York City are incorporated into all of his works, which do not represent one place or event, but are conflations of many over time. Yakimicki introduces dreamlike elements into these environments, such as celestial formations or floating objects, and the result is alternately euphoric or nightmarish. Technology figures into his work as large mechanical assemblages, and his godlike vantage points allude to modern surveillance capabilities. [1]

Ranging in scale from about three feet across to expansive wall-sized compositions, Yakimicki’s paintings begin with intuitively applied washes of color arranged layer upon layer, as if naturally occurring sedimentary geological formations. His spontaneous underpainting is a time-intensive, additive process leading him to question when a work is “finished,” a fluidity that is well-suited to his dizzying fusions of place, time, and perspective. His swaths of muted colors are populated by gesturally rendered lines representing figures. At times these figures chaotically inhabit their environment by spreading in many directions on nearly every surface of the canvas, and at other times they serenely fade into the background. Any identifiers have been omitted. They appear without facial features, grouped in matching robes that allude to unknown affiliations, perhaps religious, scholarly, militaristic, or even athletic. His landscapes often include architectural elements of Yakimicki’s design, from scaffolding to the shells of formerly grand palaces. Sometimes subtly delineated sets of stairs recede into his paintings, and their multiple vanishing points further establish these compositions as representations detached from a singular reality.

Yakimicki’s paintings lack negative space. Nearly every surface is filled with a cacophony of landforms, architecture, objects, or figures that together offer little guidance to the viewer about where to look. He uses this strategy of visual overstimulation as a way to portray his own psychological state, saying that his “impulses [and resultant marks] are raw emotion stemming from paranoia, worry, love, fear, and confusion,” and, rather than distilling these sensations, he simultaneously lays them bare on the canvas. [2] Yakimicki is quick to say that he aims to prompt an emotional response in his viewers; his intensity is balanced by this freedom to explore without moralism or conclusion. His palette, the degree to which his scenes are populated, and the built environment alternately evoke feelings of tranquility, foreboding, gloom, or exuberance.

Yakimicki cites the work of painters Roberto Matta and Joan Mitchell as artistic influences. His paintings share in common Matta’s indeterminate environments inhabited by hybrid figures and Mitchell’s allover gestural expressionism. Another source of inspiration is the elevated visual perspective found in traditional Thai mural paintings, which Yakimicki viewed while on residency in Bangkok in 2014. Buddhist mandalas figure into his thinking as well; the endurance-based creation of Tibetan sand mandalas and the cosmology contained within them are both linked to his practice. [3]

The theme of technology figures prominently in Yakimicki’s production. Machinery appears futuristic, but also with a patina, like a dystopic Sci-Fi film. It is a physical presence in his work in addition to a symbol for the inescapable “confines of capitalism” (in the artist’s words) with its attendant waste, violence, and class suppression. [4] His invented devices are not specific or representational, but loom over the scene as an unrecognizable specter. In Manhattan Projection (Prentis Hall), a large machine with several arms ominously stretches across the composition, hovering like a low flying satellite [fig 1]. Yakimicki’s studio was located in Prentis Hall as a graduate student at Columbia University, and the piece references both his own experience and the Manhattan Project research that was conducted at the University. Today, we know the ramifications of this research, the atrocities it caused during WWII, and the continuing threat of nuclear warfare. The word, “project,” is smartly extended to “projection” in the work’s title, alternately alluding to a prediction for the future, the transference of an image onto another surface, and the physical manifestation of a state of mind.

Yakimicki states that by “utilizing modern drone technology as a tool for the updated discovery of land features…I portray an array of aerial pockets and viewpoints throughout my work which are in unison with the intimate perspective I have developed since being a student in the elevations of Colorado.” [5] He blends his personal experience of observing landscape from mountains with the perspectives that drones and satellites have made widely available. Additionally, he believes that each of his monkish lines of figures could actually be the activity of a single figure whose movements are tracked in space by devices in real time. This is a distinction he does not seek to clarify, but rather prefers to keep ambiguous.

[fig 2] James Yakimicki,  rOilTea , 2011. Oil on canvas, 84 x 84 inches.

[fig 2] James Yakimicki, rOilTea, 2011. Oil on canvas, 84 x 84 inches.

Attuned to overlaps of perspective and mood in everyday life, in some works, such as rOilTea, Yakimicki renders three-dimensional forms on the very surface of the canvas, a compositional strategy meant to conjure the reflections cast on large storefront windows in New York City [fig 2]. In these instances, as in reality, it can be unclear if the image is a reflection on the glass, objects arranged in a display, or the interior of the building beyond. As if a reflection, entangled parts resembling gears and windmills appear on the surface of rOilTea, and a red clay landscape stretches far into the distance. The painting Lolita’s in Four Wheel Drive was prompted by a coffee shop Yakimicki frequented while an undergraduate student in Boulder, Colorado, which was fresh and clean at sunrise, but by the early morning hours it had become a party scene, and the cycle was soon restarted [fig 3]. Yakimicki found these contrasts jarring, as one location quickly transformed from an environment of study by morning to one of debauchery late into the evening.

[fig 3] James Yakimicki, Lolita's in Four Wheel Drive, 2013. Oil on linen, 60 x 72 inches

Drawing is a large part of Yakimicki’s practice, and he creates small, diaristic works with colored pen and marker on paper. Often, they are titled according to the date and location that inspired them, along with personal observations of the day. As such, they are more specifically located than the amalgamated landscapes of his paintings. Yet the drawings, too, are typically created using an aerial perspective. Many are inspired by his former studio and apartment on St. Mark’s Place in New York City, and nearby Washington Square Park [fig 4]. Viewers familiar with the park will recognize curved lines that allude to the central fountain lined by occupied benches. In his cityscapes, activity is abundant, and some forms resemble the park’s ever-present musicians and performers. Yakimicki's periodic drawings of Midwestern landscapes are often less heavily peopled, but instead contain areas delineated by differing textures of foliage, bodies of water, or rigid suburban fencing [fig 5].

The familiar is abstracted and rendered disorienting, as landforms and figures are eerily recognizable, yet identities and relationships remain unclear. Simultaneous depictions of strong and conflicting emotions ring true at a time of shifting political climates, threats of violence, unchecked capitalism, and obtrusive technology. Yakimicki finds uncertainty to be an apt description of our current environment. His works are personal, yet universal, as open-ended and purposefully unresolved as life itself, becoming psychological portraits of the physical, imagined, and technological landscapes that we inhabit daily.

[fig 4] James Yakimicki, Concerto #84, 2018. Pen and marker on Arches hot pressed satin paper. 10 x 10 inches

[fig 5] James Yakimicki, Pour, 2016. Ink pen on Arches hot pressed satin paper, 10 x 7 inches

[1] This essay was informed by a studio visit conducted with the artist on May 26, 2018.

[2] Email to the author on August 1, 2018.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] James Yackimicki, “Artist Statement,” Rema Hort Mann Foundation. http://www.remahortmannfoundation.org/project/jimmy-yakimicki/, accessed May 26, 2018.

This essay was written as part of the Art Critic Mentoring Program, a partnership between AICA-USA (US section of International Association of Art Critics) and CUE, which pairs emerging writers with AICA-USA mentors to produce original essays on a specific exhibiting artist. Please visit aicausa.org for more information on AICA-USA, or cueartfoundation.org to learn how to participate in this program. Any quotes are from interviews with the author unless otherwise specified. No part of this essay may be reproduced without prior consent from the author. Lilly Wei is AICA’s Coordinator for the program this season. 

Amanda York has curated the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Agnieszka Kurant, and Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, among numerous other solo and group exhibitions. Her writing has been published in the exhibition catalogues Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940–1978 (New York: Americas Society, 2015) and Graphite (Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2013). She received an MA in art history from Hunter College in New York City, and has held positions at the Americas Society, Indianapolis Museum of Art, and Savannah College of Art and Design.

Mentor Charmaine Picard is an art historian, curator, and editor trained at the University of Chicago. She recently edited Finding Beauty, Demanding Equity: An African American Life in Art. The Collections of Peggy Cooper Cafritz, published by Rizzoli Electa in February 2018. She is also the editor of a monograph on Cuban artist Yoan Capote published by Skira in 2016. She writes about modern and contemporary art for publications including ArtReview, The Art Newspaper, Art & Auction and Art in America. She is a former associate editor at The Art Newspaper and her curatorial experience includes positions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.