Paul Yanko explores the surface of things


Paul Yanko explores the surface of things

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Paul Yanko presents the world in colorful abstraction

ShapeOfThings_ArtistAbstract art truly is in the eyes of the beholder.

It demands that viewers derive meaning through interpretation. An ochre-colored sphere becomes a sun for one viewer, a symbol of wealth for another. A lavender rectangle: a punch of geometric color or a house filled with joy.

“Marcel Duchamp once said that a piece is never finished until it is viewed by an audience, that the viewer completes the work,” says Yanko, who teaches painting, drawing, and 2D design at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities.

Indeed, Yanko’s art allows the viewer to “develop an engagement through multiple points of entry—seams, cracks, fissures.” It’s this sort of unspoken dialogue between artist and viewer that has thrust Yanko’s work into the national spotlight. The award-winning artist exhibits throughout the country and has upcoming exhibitions in South Carolina and Ohio.

Like many artists, Yanko’s culture and surroundings inform his paintings. A “total Gen X-er,” Yanko draws inspiration from 1970s TV shows, fashion, and plastic toys, and, in particular, how these modern, colorful designs sharply contrast with the environment of his formative years. Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, in the Rust Belt corridor, Yanko witnessed once-thriving communities giving themselves back to nature after the collapse of the steel industry.

“The sidewalks were cracked slate; the brick buildings had layer after layer of paint, at times revealing what was beneath,” he says. “This led me to think of how things, particularly architecture, are constructed, disintegrate, then re-formed.”

Yanko’s process is one of building: layer after layer, shape after shape, the original concept evolving organically. His is a slow, deliberate process. From the first gestural swipe of a brush onto a pristine, white canvas, he opens a dialogue with the work itself. He then fashions a loose grid that morphs by placing, painting, and removing masking tape to delineate lines, shapes, colors, images, or vignettes. He goes through the process multiple times in multiple configurations until he feels the work is close to complete. Densely layered compositions of color, texture, and form, Yanko’s paintings have an almost hypnotic effect—kaleidoscopic and prismatic.

“I let the work find its own logic,” reveals Yanko. The result is a composition new and sharply defined in some places, wrought with nostalgia in others, with many “intentional accidents” along the way.
“Sometimes I want a perfectly straight line whose points and angles can be measured equally. Other times, I allow the imperfect—the color bleeds, the off-angles—to create something unexpected,” says Yanko.

These accidents often give his works a sense of some vintage object that, while a little battered, has otherwise traveled well—a nod to the past, a signal to the future.

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