On view at the Bridget Donahue Gallery, the works of Mark Van Yetter demonstrate the power and playfulness of association. The Terrifying Abyss of Skepticism, composed of a series of paintings on paper, allows for multiple readings, drawing on the artist’s wide scope of influences, including ancient artifacts and art objects, old masters, graphic illustrations, and folk art. In the expansive range of graphic possibilities and interpretive frameworks provided by these references, Van Yetter’s work calls upon the viewer to locate links between each of his works, and the historical contexts they draw on.
In some ways, this thread appears to be literary. The titles of Van Yetter’s works have frequently alluded to an unlikely variety of figures, ranging from James Joyce to Snoop Dogg, each suggesting the artist’s interest in ekphrasis, a Greek term referring to the description of a work of art as a rhetorical exercise. His images demand an intellectual dialogue between the viewer and the paintings, between context, meaning and the viewer.
However, a reading of the paintings as purely engaging in the academic falls short of the craft and process evident in his work. Instead, Van Yetter’s works seem to entice a sense of emotional participation, drawing on their immediate visual impact as much as they draw on their subtle textual weavings. Despite a number of art historical references, Van Yetter has stated that his works are not meant to be analytical. Instead, they require a certain intuition, riffs on cultural associations in order to locate an initial sense of meaning. This personal, or perhaps social, aspect provides the paintings with a certain sincerity, as they do not need to be entirely explained. The exhibition’s lack of narrativity or linearity allows for a dynamic reading that is as playful as it is intricate, rendering visual riddles for the viewer to decipher or work through.
The implication and simultaneous rejection of academia gives the viewer a certain sense of influence and agency as regards the messages and meanings of the artist’s works as a whole. In many ways, the seemingly arbitrary nature of the exhibition matches that of the viewer’s thought process, where infinite readings and constructs can be developed, and in which the works are able to play with the personal associations of audience members. Therefore, despite many of the works being grouped together intentionally, it is clear that the artist wishes to guide his viewer while allowing for the individual to determine the themes. In The Terrifying Abyss of Skepticism, Van Yetter asks the audience to consider not only what they are looking at, but how they are doing so. In his work’s poetic strangeness, the interpretation becomes a form of interaction with the space, and with the works themselves.
— M. Donovan