One of the West’s leading public artists, Karen Yank has formulated and fabricated sculpture for outdoor sites throughout the Mountain states and beyond. Yank is known for a rigorous geometric style normally dependent on the form of the circle.
The fascination with circular forms began when Yank met Agnes Martin in 1987 at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, in Maine. They met at a critical time in both of their lives. Yank had just graduated from art school, beginning her artistic career. Martin was at the end of her teaching career, and chose Yank as the human receptacle for her philosophies about art and living. She regarded Karen Yank as her “true student” on a profound philosophical level. As in John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, Martin had taken off in her truck, driving all over the U.S., ultimately choosing New Mexico as her home. Yank had chosen New Mexico as home, as well. Martin and Yank continued their close friend and mentor relationship after their return from Skowhegan to New Mexico, for the remainder of Agnes Martin’s life.
Martin unabashedly advised Yank on her sculptural works. She reminded Yank that “we are unfolding flowers. We need to listen to life and let life tell us what is next, relinquishing control and opening ourselves to true inspiration.” In the early years of Yank’s career as an artist, Martin rejected the circle as “too expansive” because Martin, herself, had not been drawn to it as a vehicle for her own inspiration. One of the greatest insights in both Martin’s and Yank’s artistic development was Martin’s response to Yank’s circular, banded discs, created from steel in the late 1990s. Martin amazed both Yank and herself by declaring these circular shapes “Yank’s vision and her mature voice” in her art. Martin said the circle was an obviously good choice for Yank and not for her, because Yank’s use of metal made the circular works more object oriented than illusional. The expansiveness of the circular shaped sculptures helped reverse their object-ness and enable the viewer to enter into the various planes and energetic fields of the works.
Agnes Martin also shared much of her wisdom about how an artist could best conduct daily life. She pointed out to Yank some decisions she had made in her life that she later regretted. Some of the decisions Martin regretted are surprising, like her famous choice to cut herself off from society and live an isolated, solitary life. She encouraged Yank to fully engage, only pulling back from the outside world when she was deeply inspired to create her work, and then to partake again in the social life.
Toward the end of Agnes Martin’s life, she asked Yank to keep Martin’s artistic philosophies alive by conveying her teachings to younger artists. She believed Yank could continue her admonitions to younger artists to remain true to their artistic convictions and allow themselves to mature and unfold. She believed artists have to find meditative purity in their artistic practice, to achieve the peace and solid framework for their works. Martin wanted Yank to teach young artists generously, as she had taught Yank, as she grew from young to senior artist.
Yank has let Martin’s teachings ruminate in her mind since Martin’s death over a decade ago. She seen other books emerge about Martin, and she sees that Martin’s teachings have not yet emerged. She now feels like it’s not her choice, but her duty to her friend and mentor, to preserve Martin’s philosophies of art and life so other artists can benefit from her as she did.
Over the 17 years Martin and Yank spent together, Martin taught Yank to notice the small details of life, and to strive for contentment in every moment. “In my life Agnes and I had a unique relationship. May she live on through her paintings, her teachings, and those who truly understand her genius.”
Opening reception Friday, September 2 from 5-7 pm.