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Art Review: Johanne Durocher Yordan


Published January 8, 2014 at 6:14 a.m.

Vermont artist Johanne Durocher Yordan chose an interesting point in her artistic journey to stage her current exhibition. Without looking at the labels of the works on view at Burlington’s Vintage Inspired, a viewer could be forgiven for thinking two artists were sharing the show. That’s because Yordan’s exhibit is bifurcated. On one side of the room we find collage-paintings dominated by bold, outsize poppies painted over layers of torn ephemera, and a few stylized sunflower paintings with subtler, more decorative collage elements. On the opposite wall are abstract paintings in earthier palettes whose compositions follow the logic of linearity.

Artists are not required to stick with one style or medium, of course, and there is no reason to believe that Yordan is not happily turning out florals and abstractions simultaneously. Both paths are compelling, for different reasons, and so are her artworks. In fact, on her website Yordan tells us, “Many of my paintings are well planned while others are impromptu.”

But she also writes, “As I continue on in my journey of abstract painting, I find more fascination and freedom to explore and experiment.” Yordan’s trajectory seems to be toward more abstraction and greater freedom of expression, and that liberation may well cause her to leave flowers and carefully composed collages behind.

Before she does, they’re worth a closer look. In this show, Yordan includes eight poppy paintings in sizes from 10 inches square to four feet tall. Regardless of their dimensions, these vermilion or orange flowers do “pop” visually, and their vibrancy is appealing, especially in the dead of winter. While not rigidly realistic, the blossoms are fairly true to form with their ruffly edges and curvy stems. The pigment is transparent enough to allow Yordan’s backgrounds to peer faintly through. In “Poppies #6” and “Poppies #7,” a pair of similar, 16-by-12-inch works, that backdrop consists of torn pages of poetry, handwritten notes with lacy penmanship, musical scores, postage stamps and the like. These are presumably meaningful to the artist and intentionally arrayed, yet Yordan’s surface treatment renders them flawlessly smooth. Her meticulous production rather homogenizes the collage, sealing the diverse elements as if in amber. Accordingly, this viewer chose to gloss right over them.

Yordan’s paintings featuring poppies and maps are more effective — because they are conceptually simpler, and because the contrast is greater between the in-your-face blossoms and the minuscule, pastel geographies. Still, both components are grounded in the earth. There is quite literally a sense of place in these works — particularly in the 48-by-30-inch “On Route,” which employs Vermont maps. The place names are familiar, yet maps by their very nature suggest travel to parts unknown. Perhaps to “Across the Lake” (30 by 24 inches), which offers four poppies and fragmented maps of upstate New York.

By contrast, Yordan’s abstract paintings are utterly devoid of representational content; they owe their cohesion — if sometimes just barely — to the grid. Like the collages, these works are layered. But here the strata consist of hues, paint over paint, and textures created by impasto, bits of wire mesh adhered to and nearly buried within the paint, a variety of brushstroke and knife techniques, and gashes.

It’s not evident in what order Yordan painted these pieces, but some are more successful than others. The 36-by-18-inch “Second Chances” may have a significant title, but the painting itself is rather ungainly. The primary color is a thin brown, made milky in places by white; a lagoon of pale green emerges in the center, and a succession of white, brushy blobs bisects the composition horizontally just below the middle. In addition, unidentifiable lumps in a variety of shapes have been affixed to the canvas and painted over; thick, swirly drools of paint provide still more texture. The work is a definite departure from elegant flora, but it tries too hard.

Yordan moves in a more promising direction with “Dimensions” — whose dominant color is sage green, with elements of black, white and mustardy gold — and with two companions titled “Alternate Dimensions” (#1 and #2), which play with browns, gold and rose. In each of these the artist explores the interplay of vertical and horizontal, mostly using wide, roughly brushed strokes and blocks, layering and cutting into the paint. No new art-historical ground is broken here, but Yordan’s experimentation is refreshing.

“Chaos,” aptly named, goes the furthest in rattling the integrity of the grid. In fact, the painting appears to be disintegrating, which gives it a tension some of the other works lack. Yordan has built an uneven structure of chocolate-brown blocks — an implied wall, perhaps, with some of the “bricks” missing. Broad vertical strokes of white paint rain down on this armature, softening the edges of the blocks. Collapse seems imminent. These sheet-like strokes begin near but not quite at the top of the painting, an effectively unsettling choice. Behind the white curtains is a wall of ochre, blemished by rogue drips of brown. The canvas is showered in slashes, their slightly curving lines shooting downward as if from an explosion.

Despite the limited palette, this painting commands attention, and Yordan’s intuitive embrace of “chaos” is an exciting development.

Johanne Durocher Yordan, paintings and collage, at Vintage Inspired in Burlington. Through January 31.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Double Vision"