New Work by Robert Dale Anderson and Sydney Yeager
Sydney Yeager and Robert Dale Anderson claimed to be nervous before speaking to the Saturday afternoon crowd gathered at d berman gallery in Austin. I guess expounding on your own recent production in front of other artists, potential collectors and old friends must be more intimidating than facing undergraduates. (Anderson teaches at the University of Texas in Austin and Yeager at Austin Community College and the Art School at Laguna Gloria.) But really, they should have been at ease. Theirs was one of the best exhibitions to date at the Austin gallery, no small feat, given the overall quality of the work shown by Berman. In fact the dialogue that occurred between Anderson's small graphite drawings and Yeager's large, intensely colored canvases set such a high standard that the artists' real challenge was competing with their own work for the attention of the audience.
began by talking about birds in motion against the sky.
The artist's eye is engaged from the moment she leaves her home
in Austin and throughout the drive to her Elgin studio 30 minutes
She described dark specks against a brilliant blue background,
flying in formation, being blown about by the wind and then
regrouping, and she recalled seeing fish swimming together in tight
formation in a stream, scattering and returning to form the same
Her words evoked the tension between chaos and order in nature.
In light of the squiggles and amoebic forms that sometimes
cover her canvases, this fascination with the way small living
things--or small strokes--combine to form a cohesive whole makes
Next Yeager read excerpts from a favorite book, Mr. Palomar, waxing philosophical, bypassing talk about process and
pictorial sources and moving into some heavy-duty abstract thinking.
Berman brought her back to basics with a leading question about how
she applies oil paint to canvas. Yeager said she begins each painting
without a specific plan and works toward recognition that it is
Each layer challenges the last, disrupting the initial pattern
and replacing it with another that may be similar or disarmingly
She showed snapshots of a painting in progress so we could see
her process; understand the scattering and realignment of her thoughts
Each photo appeared to show an entirely different painting.
the way she works has remained essentially the same, these new
paintings look quite different from earlier ones that usually included
body parts, vessels and repetitive symbols meant to approximate a kind
of private language.
The new works are abstract, devoid of the iconography and
calligraphic strokes that used to move the eye around the canvas.
Now she indicates, "you are here" and "proceed
this way" with dabs of color or ever-so-subtle vertical lines.
What might previously have been a small bird or drawing of a
hand has been replaced by a smattering of red, a smear of yellow.
A quick glance at the wall misleads viewers that there is a
yellow painting, a red one, a blue, but a close look reveals that each
canvas contains a wild blend of colors.
Asked to comment on these changes, Yeager reminded one audience
member of a question he had asked her years before--Do you put the
images in your older paintings for you or for us?
She answered that those images had been for her.
But now she doesn't need them any more.
have watched Yeager's work for a long time (I represented her through
R.S. Levy Gallery in Austin in the 80s) and so I must admit to
feelings of near maternal pride when I see how post graduate school
weaknesses--a thin, less painterly surface on large works, a
self-conscious vocabulary--have been addressed.
The painter now displays an easeful commitment to building and
crafting each surface.
Each canvas is stubbornly worked until it achieves its full
Yeager's painting career (begun late when her children were
already half grown) has evolved in a similarly deliberate manner.
The Galveston Art Center is planning a well-deserved Yeager
retrospective in 2003.
Yeager claimed she was nervous, she spoke and fielded questions with
However, Bob Anderson's pale visage and jittery voice confirmed
that his presentation was indeed something of a personal ordeal.
His work, on the other hand, is supremely confident.
From a distance, the complex pencil drawings echo Yeager's
paintings, appearing at first as black and white abstract miniatures
versions of Yeager's dense surfaces.
But when viewers approach as if myopically straining to make
sense of a world that is not quite in focus, the drawings reveal a
jumbled mix of odd characters, chaotic interiors, deserted tables,
cobwebs, and candles.
The artist manipulates shadow and light to create the illusion
Peering into those shadows, one feels vaguely like a child
unable to sleep, worrying about what might be hiding under the bed or
off in a dark corner.
Anderson creates cavelike and gloomy settings where his
personal mythology plays out.
His newer drawings include windows and doorways welcoming a new
light into the dank interiors, but even these locals are not exactly
bathed in sunlight and happy thoughts. There are simply fewer midnight
moments and more early twilights.
attributes this new light to the fact that he has moved from a dark
apartment where he lived for years to a well-lighted space.
Perhaps the drawings do reflect this change.
He still watches black and white TV, however, dreams in black
and white, and enjoys sitting in the dark.
He also continues to look at paintings by an assortment of
famously individualistic artists including Giovanni Batista Piranese,
James , James Ensor, Jan Steen, Jan Brueghel and Odilon Redon making
reference to their compositions on occasion while creating his own
original and bizarre works. The drawings are small--the largest in
this exhibit measures 7 x 15 inches--but so filled with detail and
ambiguity that each one rewards the viewer's time and attention.
process is like Yeager's.
He makes elegant marks, eliminates some, reworks others,
embellishes and layers.
He begins without a plan.
Yet despite the labored process each drawing retains a
freshness and spontaneity that is daunting--if you've ever wrestled
with a hard lead pencil.
At just the right moment he recognizes that the work is
finished (or else he says he stuffs it in a drawer and moves along to
the next one).
"Drawing is a way to make the invisible visible,"
"I don't know what I want until I find it.”
The artist also says his work is about gesture and culture,
death, chaos, time-passing and not passing.
And there is always that nod to art history: his titles--for
instance, Separation Anxiety
which depicts St. Barbara being beheaded by her father--are droll
and not to be missed either.
Despite his initial reticence in the gallery, Anderson does
have a way with words.
I hastily took notes while he and Yeager spoke, and later found that I had scrawled, “united in cosmic chaos" at the bottom of my notepad. I have no recollection where those words came from, but as I think back on the exhibition, both Anderson and Yeager do individualistic artists including Giovanni appear to be worrying thousands of chaotic Batista Piranese, James Ensor, Jan Steen, Jan brush and pencil strokes until they reveal comBrueghel and Odilon Redon making reference positions that delight and challenge. If imposto their compositions on occasion while creating order on chaos is the job of the artist, ing his own original and bizarre works. The these two do it particularly well. drawings are small-the largest in this exhibit measures 7 x 15 inches-but so filled with detail and ambiguity that each one rewards the viewer's time and attention. Anderson's process is like Yeager's. He makes elegant marks, eliminates some, reworks others, embellishes and layers. He begins without a plan. Yet despite the labored process each drawing retains a freshness and spontaneity that is daunting-if you've ever wrestled with a hard lead pencil. At just the right moment he recognizes that the work is finished (or else he says he stuffs it in a drawer and moves along to the next one). "Drawing is a way to make the invisible visible," says Anderson. "I don't know what I want until I find it." The artist also says his work is about gesture and culture, death, chaos, timepassing and not passing. And there is always that nod to art history: his titles-for instance, Separation Anxiety which depicts St. Barbara being beheaded by her father-are droll and not to be missed either. Despite his initial reticence in the gallery, Anderson does have a way with words.
hastily took notes while he and Yeager spoke, and later found that I
had scrawled, "united in cosmic chaos" at the bottom of my
I have no recollection where those words came from, but as I
think back on the exhibition, both Anderson and Yeager do appear to be
worrying thousands of chaotic brush and pencil strokes until they
reveal compositions that delight and challenge.
If imposing order on chaos is the job of the artist, these two
do it particularly well.