The back room of the Center for Intuitive and Outside Art (Intuit)’s new exhibit of Joseph E. Yoakum’s drawings, The Picture Tells the Story, inspires initial skepticism. With pastel-blue walls, the room is like the lobby of an elementary school with the sophisticated smell of an art studio. But the drawings hold their own.
Yoakum traveled extensively after serving in the military in World War I, but the details of his travels are unclear. Many of his journeys could very well be figments of his imagination. He began drawing in the 1950s and in two decades produced over 2,000 pictures of landscapes from all around the world. Yoakum’s work has been shown at the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The show is curated by Mark Pascale of the Art Institute’s department of prints and drawings.
Looking deep into any of Yoakum’s landscapes, you find yourself lost in a forest, hidden at first glance. Rock formations take on the appearance of sea anemones, swaying fluidly back and forth within the confines of the paper’s borders. Each crevice is filled by a forest of pines.
Some question whether Yoakum traveled to all of the places he depicted in his drawings. Considering the prevalence of pine trees covering every page, this skepticism seems well founded—all his landscapes are the same. With diluted ink lines and colored-pencil blues and greens, the drawings are not striking at a glance, but a closer inspection reveals a certain magical quality that gives vibrancy to the somewhat subdued pallet. His drawings enchant the viewer, wrapping us up in this sort of magical fluidity.
Intuit could have done more justice to the beauty of Yoakum’s work by removing the couch and coffee table from the show room and perhaps lessening the intensity of the blue walls. But despite these distracting elements, Yoakum’s work has a serious presence worth our attention. Invoking the the hypnotic beauty of nature with mystical forms, Yoakum created an inspiring collection of work.