Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s Lush Abstractions Are Strikingly Intimate
Enveloping viewers in sweet poetry, Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s works tug at heartstrings with loose brushwork and sensuous color palettes. The British artist weaves song lyrics and texts from her personal writing into lush, visually dense, semi-abstract paintings. Embedded with scintillating glass beads and splashes of glitter, her works provide unexpected moments in the textures of pastels, oil, and acrylic on canvas.
With the emerging art scene dominated by figurative painting in recent years, Yearwood-Dan’s explorations of abstraction have a distinct atmosphere. Her current solo exhibition “The Sweetest Taboo,” on view through April 26th at Tiwani Contemporary, takes its title from the 1985 Sade song. In the lyrics, which deal with the complex emotions stirred by intense pleasure, Yearwood-Dan found the perfect expression of her own identity as a queer person. “I thought about the negativity we face, being made to feel like living in our truth is taboo in some way,” the artist said in a recent interview with Artsy. “Being happy and growing in love with my own queerness…something so sweet came from that that has been demonized as taboo.”
The ambience of the London exhibition, which features large-scale paintings and sculptural works, is introspective and intimate, tender and joyful. It shows an increasingly confident painter in the next phase of a deeply personal journey using abstraction as a form of self-determination—something Yearwood-Dan began to experiment with at her first solo exhibition at Tiwani Contemporary in 2019, “After Euphoria.”
On her canvases, swathes of soft, sinuous lines recall Sandro Botticelli’s brushwork. One standout painting in this newest body of work, Despite all odds (2022), features in a palette of limpid, minty green the line “woke up this morning with my mind set on losing me.” Meanwhile, in A Dream is just a kiss (2022), Yearwood-Dan’s characteristically striking use of black enshrouds the words “I only want to give you love” in a cosmic and mystical space.
Spilling out from the canvases and into the gallery space are found benches and stools that Yearwood-Dan has recast with paper clay. Her ongoing experimentation with sculpture began during the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, when the London-based artist taught herself to hand-build and produced a series of vessels. “I think the tactile movement of exploring sculpture has helped with freeing myself up a bit,” Yearwood-Dan said, describing how working in three dimensions for the first time has informed her painting, pushing her use of materials and forms into exciting new territory.
Her benches and stools also serve another purpose at Tiwani Contemporary: They extend an invitation for viewers to sit and spend more time with her works to discover their hidden texts and semaphores. They’re also a way to address accessibility issues, particularly for people with limited mobility, within a commercial gallery context. “[People] have difficulty experiencing art in person if they’re forced to stand—if I can make that a more comfortable experience then why not, right?” Yearwood-Dan said.
Creating self-affirming space—both physically and metaphysically—for herself and others is the beating heart of Yearwood-Dan’s practice. It’s easy to see why audiences are so drawn to her work for precisely those qualities.