Robert Yarber, Pain-Thing, 1991, , Oil and acrylic on canvas, 60 x 45 inches
I love all of Robert Yarber’s work, from his large-scale noir-paintings of the 80’s, to the more pared-down ones of the 90’s, to his present day ultra-expressionistic cartoon drawings.
Pain-Thing, from 1991, distills everything he does so well into one beautifully sexy painting. I have absorbed so much from this painting that I see parts of it in my own work over and over.
The paint is at once fluid and gestural (in the cityscape) and clunky (like the high-ball glass on the dresser) and sensitive (in the woman’s face) and the cartoony drawing style is so friendly and perfect.
The drawing style seems both personal to the artist and lifted from somewhere in pop culture and it kind of puts me at ease. It’s casual. It’s funny. The cartoony-ness is a point of entry into the painting, but it seems at odds with the overall situation. The image as a whole becomes friendly and creepy. But it manages to seem twisted and dark without really showing much.
Most of Pain-Thing is loosely painted, and the cityscape does that “up close it’s a mess, back up and it’s tidy” thing exquisitely. It’s this shorthand where anything can appear with just a few quick brushstrokes. It’s Yarber’s own weird style combining photorealism and black velvet painting techniques, and there is such a beautiful simplicity to it.
The image, of drunken sex in a high-rise hotel room, is more quietly perverted than Yarber’s other high drama hotel paintings. These figures are involved in a drama, but it’s a sort of intimate drama, and it all hinges elegantly on the woman’s twisted up face. I love how the whole image relies on this fine detail. This one moment, the moment she bares her teeth and extends her tongue, this is the moment in the story where everything comes together. And technically, the slight increase in sensitivity painted into this purplish-creamy detail provides an anchor for the rest of the much looser brushwork. I love that.