Joshua Yeldham | Surrender Tree
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Surrender Tree

see Yeldham’s work is a mapping of multiple realities. It charts the artist’s travels among the mangroves, the disused oyster leases and along the salty foreshores near Pittwater. Yeldham’s cartography moves within this world and without. He is not limited by the materiality of reaching tree limbs or the muddy matter of swamps. His paintings and photographic works move beyond the human-perceived environment. Instead, he deliberates on the fragile spaces in between, the liminal places in his heart and mind where imagination soars and intellect sings. He says, ‘the space between two lines is what connects us.’

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follow Yeldham has been preoccupied, for many years, with the intersection of cultures. India, Malaysia, Indonesia, indigenous Australia; his influences have been a ‘world music’ version of art aesthetics. This is true in a literal sense too, as he has often incorporated musical instruments into his large scale paintings. This recent body of work was created to the accompaniment of Indian tabla music; moving in the studio along with its rhythms and syncopations.

follow site His strength and freedom is his rejection of intellectual trends. He is more interested in spiritedness, in vital vibrations, of meridian lines within the human form and across the longitudes of the globe, and incorporating these primitive delineations into an expanded experience of nature.

source If fertility has been a thematic in the past, the artist’s sense of self as an entity, which forms part of greater entities, is now an absorption. Yeldham works as spiritual journeyman. He swoops, like his constant daemon-spirit or guardian owl, across these paintings which have been carved and caned, indigo-incised and marked, in time with his heart beat, in tempo with his private prayers. As journeyman, Yeldham, ‘can’t help but weave stories, making maps in an attempt not to get lost.’ Yeldham’s differentiation is his skillful artisanship. He uses sanders, carving tools, knives: line work in indigo, scored with calligraphic elegance, and then he applies and rubs back the oil paint. Sometimes he adds shells, instruments, the skeletal remains of Japanese fans. This requires fine workmanship, consistent and detailed precision. As Yeldham says, ‘By eating into the wood, I create new stories. There is decay and new life. This is a deeper form of navigation.’


watch In a new conceptual turn, Yeldham has elaborated on his deep and instinctual fascination with the partly submerged trees near his home. Like the Surrender trees which feature in his new work, he spreads his limbs in search of light and stability. His interest in his local environment is one of discovery and of the unexpected. These are rituals of exploration, sensual and tactile. The isolated ecologies he finds during his boat trips up the Hawkesbury reveal the vulnerability of the land and the artist’s own battles with fearful dreams and darker mysteries.

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The new work is manifested through photography. On thick paper, heavier than canvas, he hand-prints photos taken from his mobile phone. Then he casts a shadow of colour and begins his particular method of carving. The result is an investigation into light. Where the paper is carved, the light is iridescent. There is a glowing intensity to these photo-media works. They are spirited by the carving, animated by the revealing method of cutting into what is familiar and allowing it to become strange and uncanny.


Whether an elephant-head rocky outcrop, a submerged double male/female tree of loping limbs or his own son pointing towards infinity, with an empowering matador jacket across his innocent shoulders, these works are confounding. They emanate fresh energy. When Yeldham cuts back into the image, he scars the scene, a devotional methodology, a tattooing of clan-like belonging. This can be interpreted as a means of connecting and merging with the landscapes he so loves and relies upon for his strength and courage.


There is an unearthly quality to these monochromatic works. Cosmic awareness and spiritual wonder: these are ethereal and shadowy scenes which suggest all that we do not comprehend. Each carving into the photographic paper opens up to a shaft of white light and suggest ghosts of the past and presences from the future. They confer a celebratory atmosphere, an inclination towards thanksgiving. Across each tree limb and across the still water of the river, Yeldham leaves a spectral trail. This perhaps represents an acceptance of mortality and a joyful praise for the vitality of present life.


Surrender Tree (2013) catalogue essay by Prue Gibson.


13 November–14 December 2013