Michaela Yearwood-Dan paints large, alluring pictures that slowly reveal their secrets. Your eye can rest on an intimate line of text nestled in a swirling composition of richly colored plants, or on subtle blooms of Swarovski crystals, acrylic nails or gold leaf applied to the surface of a painting. Or you might spot cotton flowers, decorated with pearly beads and sewn into her canvases.
“I like to accessorize my work,” she said with a chuckle, on a recent Zoom call from her London studio. Yearwood-Dan, who is only 27 years old, has just completed the remote installation of his first solo exhibition in the United States at Marianne Boesky in New York, on the heels of a few busy years, including joining the lists. by Marianne Boesky and Tiwani from London. Contemporary, collaborating with author Margaret Atwood on a cover for Harper’s Bazaar, and the realization of a mural commission for the Facebook offices in London.
The Boesky exhibition featured lavish semi-abstract works that document the artist’s emotional responses to the years of the pandemic, a time of anxiety, but also a time in which she fell in love (her first “true queer relationship” And found relief in the news a space for the conversations about the breed that opened up in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. One of these works, A conduit of joy (2021), is a sumptuous diptych with the words âHow does it get even better? Floating above gold leaf and a flurry of tropical color, windblown leaves and scattering crystals.
The artist’s impulse to adorn is as much about personal style as the atmosphere she tries to evoke in her paintings and the pleasure she takes in the process. Yearwood-Dan grew up in south London, which explains, she says, why she feels naked when she leaves her apartment without gold jewelry, as well as aesthetic choices in her paintings. She also likes the slow and delicate process of embellishing her paintings. And this series of opulence has deeper roots in the history of art.
Yearwood-Dan attended Catholic schools as a child and remembers the gold inflected religious images as one of the first she was exposed to. His abstract arrangements of color and flora – often centered around a portal-like negative space in the middle of the composition – in some ways mimic “the great frescoes and the Sistine Chapel and the movements of great heavens and supernatural visions” , she says, even as they express something much less grand and more personal. They represent, in his own words, âthe diaristic self-historicization of the emotions and feelings that I go throughâ.
Lately, her compositions have taken on more movement, in part because she learned how to make ceramics herself and turned her Leyton apartment into an impromptu clay workshop during the 2020 foreclosure. Yearwood-Dan, the rotating clay painting process has loosened his handling of paint. âI think the work is also a lot more confident,â she says, as she settled into a style and visual language that started to take shape about three years ago, but which is the manifestation. of nearly a decade of exploring her voice and identity.
Growing up in low-rental housing, Yearwood-Dan was a self-proclaimed theatrical child and shared a love of the arts with her father, but rarely went to museums, except for occasional trips to the Victoria and Albert Museum, in the Royal Academy and the Tate. She didn’t set foot in a shopping mall until she was twenty. âI didn’t feel like I had the opportunity to access these spaces until I graduated,â she recalls.
A first encounter with the painting of Chris Ofili No woman No Cry (1998), a portrait of Doreen Lawrence, whose son Stephen was murdered in a racist hate crime in south London in 1993, helped Yearwood-Dan envision a future as an artist. âEveryone talks about performance, but there are moments of performance that overwhelm you, and for me, it was discovering Chris Ofili at 16 or 17,â she says. âBeing a black person who grew up in South London, Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor [who was killed, aged 10, in Peckham] were names I knew as if they were my cousins. It is also the colors, the reference to Bob Marley and the distorted silhouette that give him the familiar African impression of the painting.
As an art student at the University of Brighton, where Yearwood-Dan was taught exclusively by whites, the feeling of out of place in the art world persisted and she felt that she needed to be. turn to figurative painting in order to work on racial disparities. . Now, back in London and continuing to cultivate a more nuanced expression of his psychic state, Yearwood-Dan has plenty of opportunities ahead. But she cautions against the frenzy of interest in black artists that has manifested itself in recent years. âThe art world is very quick to emulate everything cool, fast-paced, and liberal that is going on in the world,â she says. “If you want to work with me, let it be under the guise of an intellectual show that is not completely intrinsically linked to my being Black.” In 2020, she turned down dozens of emails inviting her to appear on all-black shows.
âThe change is great and deserved,â she adds, âbut sometimes you have to think: where is it going? And take the path of caution. Seize the right opportunities and make sure the people you work with are genuine. Finally, we can have these conversations that we’ve had in the community for a very long time, âshe says. âWe cannot stop. “
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