Yet look beyond the work’s center, and odd details abound: An ashtray is out of proportion to a tea cup, the man is missing a right foot, and two tables in the background appear to merge together into one. Yuskavage said that the barn door in the painting hails from a Franz Kafka story (“A Country Doctor”), in which it serves as a kind of opening to the id; by unlatching the barn door for the viewer, Yuskavage lets us into a tangled unconscious.
Invoking Kafka, Yuskavage indicated her strong interest in storytelling. Even her small paintings offer rich narrative possibilities. One small 8.75-by-8-inch study, Nest (2012), for example, holds enough character and setting for at least a novella. In the foreground, a pregnant woman stands with her face obscured by dark, swirling paint. She’s naked but for a striped scarf and mittens. Behind her, another woman reclines atop two long wooden rods, wearing only a green scarf and a high green sock. Beyond stand two women fully covered in long skirts and long-sleeved shirts. (Many of Yuskavage’s characters make wacky, extreme fashion choices: Often, it’s either beaded panties or conservative peasant garb.)
In the background rises a craggy mauve mountain, while the shape of a cross emerges from the grassy hill. The bucolic setting makes the painting feel historical—except, of course, for the unidealized nudes. Yuskavage accentuates the pregnant character’s line of stomach fuzz, leading down to dark pubic hair. She doesn’t glamorize the pregnant body. Half Heidi, half Hustler, the painting offers little rationale for how these women ended up in this place, or how this world actually functions. A moon in the top right corner of the painting and the dreamy hues of the backdrop suggest some kind of mysticism at play.