August 2002

Charles Yoder’s paintings are grounded in the ordinary facts of familiar and comfortable landscape environments, and yet they are mysterious and provocative in ways that invite deeper contemplation and reflection. In an essay on Mark Twain, T.S. Eliot commented that he doubted that “a poet or novelist can be universal without being very local too.” In a similar vein the poet/singer Leonard Cohen has observed, “Mystery is always grounded in ordinary fact.” We don’t simply take in the accuracy of observation and detail in Charles Yoder’s paintings: somehow, the paintings resonate more deeply within our consciousness, stirring up personal associations and memories…filling our experience of them with poetic complexity.

In his book about the painter Georges Inness, Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr. quotes Inness as remarking, “Unity is the fundamental principle of all art”, … and it is neither an aesthetic or a visual effect, but a “great spiritual principle.” Inness further states “The chief peril to a painting’s wholeness (unity) is descriptiveness that calls undue attention to the things described and to itself as a feat of technique.” It seems clear that Charles Yoder has been able to achieve this ideal of carefully observed representation without losing that sense of the mysterious, of spirit. He develops his paintings with meticulous and subtle craft while maintaining a lively and spontaneous feeling that doesn’t necessarily underline the technical virtuosity of the work. The paintings communicate as abstractions as richly and fully as they communicate as literal descriptions. This is the unity to which Inness refers. It is the entrance into mystery. The use of color and value changes, the quality and character of varied illumination, the rhythm of the brushwork and mark-making, the sensual textures of the paint surface, the complexity and feel of space, the animated gestures and solid presence of forms… all of these intangibles, are fully unified partners with the outward physical descriptions. The paintings invite both recognition and very complex emotional, psychological, or even spiritual response.

A further unity can be found between the mind and the spirit of the artist and the exuberance of the work as expressed in its ambitious scale and its uninhibited embrace of beauty and emotion as significant and legitimate expressive concerns. The contemporary art world is rightly suspicious of this kind of commitment. It is wary of the easy and superficial clichés of beauty that elicit knee-jerk responses of appreciation and awe. It is thus a daunting task to evoke beauty and emotion with serious (profound) expressive intentions in a world filled with cynicism and doubt. In an interview in Art in America (March ’98) Bill Viola defends the validity and necessity of this kind of effort… “I believe that when something is so visually overwhelming that it makes you cry, what you are really tapping into is some undercurrent of wisdom and knowledge that gives you an insight into the fundamental truth of life. It’s not ‘merely emotion.”

Charles Yoder’s paintings are both wonderfully accessible and mysteriously elusive. They’re not easy. The viewer is invited to collaborate with the paintings in a personal and intimate way to mine the treasures of their nuanced content.

Michael H. Lewis, Professor of Art, University of Maine, Orono, Maine, August 2002