Born Paramaribo, Suriname, 1975 / BFA, Cooper Union, NYC; MFA, University of Michigan / Lives in Detroit
In her recent practice, Detroit artist Yvette Rock presents a series of self-imposed challenges while vigorously engaging with ideas about media and methodology to tell her visual stories. Her processes seem open to these questions: How does one construct a body of work? Where does it begin? Is it a series of investigations or a more concrete endeavor? Is it a thematic undertaking or an accumulation of disparate art making over time? Rock’s approach encompasses all possibilities. Newly created and found materials have made their way onto her studio work table alongside oil, acrylic, gouache, watercolor, charcoal, graphite, Conté crayon, turpentine, damar varnish, linseed oil, printmaking tools and inks, pastels, gesso, medium, and on and on. Over time Rock has sown a rich inventory of resources from which to venture.
Thematically, she has developed a series of works based on the many issues facing the urban landscape seen and unseen, recognized but neglected. In the assemblage Plague of Poverty (2012), Rock, a formidable storyteller, sets the stage, building a case for immediate communication between her subjects and the viewer. In preparation for this work, Rock interviewed people living in homeless shelters, listening to their stories and drawing their portraits. The combination of the portraits, beautifully drawn on wood, with the placement of ordinary household objects such as cups, bowls and plates, establishes an environment. Here the process of expression and documentation creates a sense of immediacy. Rock’s intent to present conversations for the viewer is intensified through these chronicles. Reading like a newspaper headline, the artist’s conversation moves to the related ”Plague of Arson and Fire” (2012) constructions. Assembled from charred planks of wood from destroyed homes, children’s toys, and photographs of fires, these remain a startling footprint of urban disaster.
The process of combining several diverse methods such as drawing, assemblage, weaving, and found objects within individual works builds and expands Rock’s narrative. In the series “Community Convresations” (2016), the artist has chosen to blend, connect and combine traditional art materials with created materials not usually regarded or associated with the art process. These include patterned fabric cut into strips and treated with resin, giving the appearance and feel of waxed paper. Wood, plastic, and board have replaced paper as a surface for drawing. Birch printing blocks have become the ground for collage, with photography providing a figurative reference. Rock uses the cloth strips as small banners in the work Community Conversation with Tenuous Equilibrium #3 (2016). These works accommodate small, handwoven elements such as beads, ribbons, and sequins with black and white photography. This seemingly haphazard quality of much of Rock’s three-dimensional work defines an important aspect of her approach to art making. The element of time is addressed, as well, as her imbedded stories unfold and the viewer takes into account the use of a range of media. Chronicling the conversation in this way demonstrates the artist’s willingness to present new paths of understanding while deepening the search for clarity.
Rock creates images that project transparency rather than volume in Self Portrait (2016) and other portraits on wood in one of her current series. The artist maintains tension between forms by employing a neutral palette with the asymmetrical placement of colorful circular elements. Several works in the portrait grouping are on circular wood panels upon which the artist has combined collage and drawing. On other inkless printmaking blocks appear carved patterns, portions of Detroit city maps and stencils of floral surfaces, found papers, and objects. They are notations for expansion, laying groundwork for the environmental and installation works to come.
The circle is a preferred form within this artist’s range as seen in new paintings like Battle of Life (2017). The use of transparency and overlays in these figurative paintings by Rock are joyous and lyrical, potent with color markings. The circular canvases enhance the compositions for her figurative ideas. They are freely rendered, imbued with brilliant, vibrant brushstrokes, yet reminiscent of the classical tondo format.
Within her practice, Rock seeks creative solutions in a myriad of investigations about community and art making. As she seeks balance within the process, she expands with new conversations as seen in her current circular ground works, including One (2017). Working directly into the earth, the artist explores environmental and installation methods by drawing forms into the ground at varying levels, placing stones as markers. This conceptual approach is exemplary of her visionary and ongoing acceptance of new challenges.
Shirley Woodson, August 2017
Copyright Essay’d 2017