Gardens of Maps, Birds, and Music: The Collage Paintings of Johanne Yordan

West Branch Gallery
Jul 21, 2015 4:00AM

Some artists are immediately accessible, while others are elusive, even alienating. Johanne Yordan is certainly accessible. Her work is colorful, vibrant, and easily relatable. From her birds perching on a tree branch or along a fence to her bold, magnified red poppies, Yordan’s work is the world of summer’s blossoms and autumn’s song of change. And yet look closer, there, beneath the beauty of these easily recognizable images is a layering of Vermont maps, sheet music, vintage ledger paper or texts from old books. Bringing all of these elements together is Yordan’s passion and challenge.

“I try not to think too long and hard about the vision of each painting because it can cloud my head too much. I let my heart guide me. If I dislike something, I rework what I do, believing that mistakes can make artwork absolutely wonderful,” Yordan said.

Though it may sound simple, her process of work is far from that. She begins each painting by adhering her collected papers as background to canvas or birch panels. She sketches in the subject matter and paints, layering different shades of color. When the layering is complete, she outlines the flowers or birds with acrylic paint, and then splatters them using a brush. “Nature is beautiful but also dirty and imperfect,” Yordan said. “I believe in keeping my paintings a true reflection of what the world really is.”

Admitting she may not have the greenest thumb in the yard, her floral series is her garden, bursting with lush daisies and bright golden sunflowers. A stack of gardening journals and periodicals sits nearby in her studio as she paints flowers in thin washes of acrylic atop the collaged surfaces of her canvases. Faded outlines of lakes and streets, borders and town names, are just visible beneath the semi-transparent petals and leaves. Building upon experience with other mediums, Yordan has learned to carefully manipulate her materials to achieve this almost watercolor-like sheerness. On top of the paint, she applies a self-leveling gel to bring out the colors, as well as to protect the work. When the piece is dry, she varnishes the work with a satin or matte finish.

Yordan also designs her own paper, which she uses in the series titled Remnants. Several of these works, each 8 x 8 inches square on canvas, were recently on view at West Branch. “I have finished twenty-eight so far. I plan to do fifty to one hundred of these. I make the papers using a mono-printing process at home with acrylic paints.When all the papers are finished, I bring them to my studio and begin the collage process.  No two are alike. They are abstracts and a joy to do.”

Working every day is a challenge for any artist and Yordan feels fortunate to have a beautiful studio in a one-hundred-year-old building off of Pine Street in Burlington, with fourteen other artists.  “Discipline is not a problem for me but keeping out of my studio is my challenge. I love what I do so much and want to share it with everyone.” She faces an even larger challenge when she works on large canvases. This requires her to work with them lying flat on a table, which is physically difficult.

On the Fence, 2015
West Branch Gallery

Yordan said that when she enters her studio she is there to work, with as few distractions as possible. “I don’t answer my phone unless I think it may be important and never work if someone is visiting. This is what I do full-time. And I don’t allow negativity through the door of any kind. If I’m in a weird place or don’t feel good I drive myself back home, which is three minutes away, and come back when my head is clear. My studio is my private retreat, a place where magic happens, a place that I can create to give to others. I want what I do to live beyond my years here on earth.”

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