Rising Artist Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s Lavish Flora-Filled Visions Make Beauty Political
We caught up with the London-based artist during her second solo show at Marianne Boesky.
“When I make works I always want to sort of top myself,” said artist Michaela Yearwood-Dan, in a recent online talk following the opening of her buzzed-about second solo show at Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York. “Some Future Time Will Think of Us,” takes its title from a poem by Sappho.
The show leaves little doubt that Yearwood-Dan has succeeded in outdoing herself this time. No detail feels left to chance. Large-scale and multi-panel paintings, filled with her signature dazzling mix of swirling forms, whorls, loops, and floral shapes, all in a vibrant palette with pops of neon pink, lined the gallery walls. There were also her newer ceramics (both wall-hung and free-standing) as well as custom-made benches that look as though they were coated in a pink paper-mache texture, inviting the viewer to sit and contemplate the work.
Prior to the show opening on April 6, London-based Yearwood-Dan, spent roughly a week in a dedicated gallery room, creating a sweeping, on-site mural, titled At The Request of the Dreamer that seems set to break free from the wall and spill over onto the adjoining one (and in fact does with some drips and splatters).
A week earlier when we stopped by the gallery, Yearwood-Dan was hard at work, in a raised lift inside the mural room dabbing bright pink paint on an upper section, as we briefly chatted about the gray, overcast New York weather and how she was in the city longer than usual in order to create the mural and attend the opening of the show.
By opening night, the mural had evolved into a far more intricate and sophisticated vision. Yearwood-Dan, meanwhile, had installed a soundtrack (a musical piece created by her friend and film composer Alex Gruz) to accompany the visuals and mood of the mural. She’d also arranged for incense to be burning at the opening, and it wafted through the space, as guests sat on benches, taking it all in.
In recent talks, the artist has emphasized the importance of benches and sitting areas as important aspects of accessibility in order to create a welcoming environment in the otherwise often-sterile, white cube gallery space.
Community access is a vital component of her practice. Last year, she created her first public mural installation for Queercircle, London, an organization focused on social change and LGBTQ+ arts, founded by her friend and fellow artist Ashley Joiner. The work, titled Let Me Hold You, sprawled across a curved wall, with ledge seating, and invited visitors to pause and connect.
Even as the artist fields technical questions about her process or acknowledges certain influences—her love of Carnival culture in the context of her West-Indian heritage—she resists the urge for a lazy or reductive interpretation of her work and in discussions, seems more than happy to step back and let viewers form their own impression about the meaning of symbols, colors, patterns, materials, and the work itself. Her material pleasure in making the works is evident, however. “I really get a kick out of giant oil pastels because I feel like a young and free toddler whilst using them,” she said, “The pigment in them is often *chefs kiss*!”
“Lush and brightly hued, Yearwood-Dan’s work is at once personal and political,” the gallery said in a statement. Yearwood-Dan often utilizes colors for their symbolic associations—from the hints of the oranges, pinks, purples, and blues of the lesbian and bisexual pride flags mingling through the compositions to the queer histories of the ceramic carnation and pansy petals collaged into her recent paintings.
A common thread throughout Yearwood-Dan’s multi-disciplinary practice is her insertion of personal, sometimes cryptic writings—poems and phrases—into the paintings and ceramics. They range from the serious and the deeply personal (“I love my future more than I hate parts of my history”) to the playful, like the lyric “Ain’t nobody gonna hold me down” which appears in the neck of a recent ceramic from the older pop song “Break My Stride”, to a random line from a Back Street Boys song—the lyric’s inclusion the result of the constant stream of music in her studio.
Yearwood-Dan, who was born in London in 1994, received a bachelor’s in fine art painting from the University of Brighton in 2016, and earlier studied at the University of Creative Arts in Epsom, England.
In addition to various solo and group gallery shows, her work is already included in the permanent collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C.; the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami; the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, the Jorge M. Perez Collection in Miami; and the Columbus Museum of Art and Pizzuti Collection, both of the later in Columbus, Ohio.
The artist’s work is currently on view in “Ecologies of Elsewhere” at Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, (through August 6) and “Considering Female Abstractions” at the Green Family Art Foundation in Dallas, (through May 21).
As is the case with many sought-after artists whose star is on the rise, dealers do their best to keep a tight lid on market speculation including initial placement of works. Despite this, some paintings have been finding their way onto the auction block in recent years.
The artist’s current record of $880,000 (£730,800) was set at Christie’s London in late February, just over two months ago, for a large painting Love me nots (2021). The price smashed the £60,000 high estimate by roughly a dozen multiples. The buyer had acquired it from a show at London’s Tiwani Contemporary Gallery.
Primary market prices have also been on the rise from about $20,000 three or four years ago to $75,000, seen at a work recently shown at Frieze Los Angeles, and currently at about $120,000, sources familiar with the primary market say. So far, nine works have come up at auction, all of which found buyers.
As for the artist herself, the onsite mural followed by the opening called for a perhaps longer-than-usual stay in New York. At a talk inside the gallery a few days after the opening, she said she was looking forward to returning home to London, sleeping in her own bed, and seeing her cat.
“Michaela Yearwood-Dan: Some Future Time Will Think of Us” is on view at Marianne Boesky Gallery, 507 and 509 West 24th Street, New York, April 6–May 20, 203.
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