Painter Sharon Yates’s patience and devotion breathes depth and character into a seemingly banal subject: cow pastures.
Sharon Yates. At the Whistler House Museum of Art, Lowell, MA, through July 27.
By Renée Caouette.
The Whistler House Museum of Art, a nineteenth-century home filled with paintings from renowned Boston School artists including William Moris Hunt and Frank W. Benson, has just placed alongside its permanent collection a selection of the bucolic work of acclaimed painter Sharon Yates. The gathering of her small works in the Parker Gallery consists of still lifes, portraiture and her trademark landscapes dotted with cows.
Yates, an oil painter born in Rochester, NY, now lives and works between Maine and Canada, painting alla prima and en plein air in the rolling farm pastures along the East Coast. From humble beginnings, she received her BFA from Syracuse University, the artist has won the Prix de Rome, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Grant, and the Shatalov award at the National Academy of Design.
The reception for the exhibition commenced with words from Sara M. Bogosian, the president of the Whistler House Museum of Art, followed by Yates herself, easily recognizable from her self-portrait, complete with her characteristically large framed glasses and classic, New England Birkenstock sandals. Her explanation of her art also offered welcome insights into her personality, particularly her determination and passion. Over the decades, she has tramped across acres of farm land, often dotted with piles of manure, developing relationships with the cows she painted.
Besides the great outdoors, you can see the influence on Yates’s art of her European travels: what the pieces lacked in size they made up for in vibrant hues and sophisticated construction. Her somewhat whimsical portraits are reminiscent of Cézanne and the Nabis School—like her landscapes, they are infused with an interest in off-beat perspectives.
At the reception, Yates described finding the sight of cows in pasture, a subject she has explored since 1992, as a happenstance encounter. Out driving and attempting to come up with an idea for her next painting, she discovered a farm and was immediately struck by the lighting on the horses, saying to herself, “I’m going to figure this out.” This moment, her fascination with natural illumination, inspires most of the paintings that are on display in the Parker Gallery. They are marked with Yates’s attempt to “interact with nature,” her fascination with depicting the “fluidity in the pasture.”
When talking about one of her landscapes, Yates explained her process of designing a composition. Her method recalled the approach of Paul Cézanne. She picks her spot and begins to paint what she sees but soon begins to superimpose cows and scenes outside of her line of sight, placing them into the existing composition and creating a scene that looks natural.
Yates’s patience and devotion breathes depth and character into a seemingly banal subject: cow pastures transformed into images of natural beauty, gritty farmyard images of wonder.