Art History Spotlight: Joseph Yoakum

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Hello! Today I am sharing the work of Joseph Yoakum. Joseph Yoakum (1888-1972) was a self-taught landscape artist who created his drawings from memories of his travels. He traveled extensively due to his employment with a circus, and then with the army during World War I. Yoakum eventually settled in Chicago where he worked various jobs until he began to make art in his 70s. He created over 2,000 artworks within the last ten years of his life!

Yoakum’s art certainly stands alone without the need to know his biography. However, there are varying accounts of Yoakum’s life story. Officials records indicate that he was born in Missouri. However, Yoakum recalled being born in Arizona on Window Rock Navajo reservation. We do know that his mother was of African, French American, and Native ancestry, and his father was Cherokee and Creek . Some people have also claimed that Yoakum made the drawings purely from his imagination, but it was later discovered by author Derrel DePasse that Joseph did travel to many of the places he documented.

I think the most important thing about Yoakum’s story is the impact he had on Chicago artists. His work was first discovered in the window of his storefront studio by John Hopgood, a local college art instructor. Recognizing the beauty and complexity of Yoakum’s art, Hopgood purchased a few pieces and brought the work to the attention of the art community. Whitney Halstead, a professor at the School of the Art Institute, and a group of art students befriended Yoakum and helped promote his work. Some of the artists inspired by Yoakum included notable artists such as Jim Nutt, Roger Brown, Gladys Nilsson, Ed Paschke, and other Chicago Imagists of the 1960s.

Thankfully, this is a story of success. There are several artists who fall into the category of outsider art who never gained recognition during their lifetimes. Yoakum had a few shows in Chicago and went on to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum in New York a year before his death. His work is now widely exhibited, collected, and cherished. If interested in learning more about Yoakum, here is a good article by Jerry Saltz from Vulture.

Until next time! Have a great weekend.

Image Credits: © Joseph Yoakum
#1: The Valley of the Moon in Rockey mtn Range near Casper Wyoming, 1966. Image: Carl Hammer Gallery. #2: Choco Valley of San Luis Obispo County near Pasorobles, California, 1969. #3: The Everglades in S Florida near town Redland, 11, Colored pencil, graphite, and ink on paper, 12 × 17 3/4 in. Image: #4: Mt. Patrick in Mahoosue Rang, Near Augusta Maine, 1970, Colored pencil and ballpoint pen on paper, 12 x 19 inches. Image: Carl Hammer Gallery.

Please note that all images are copyright © of the individual artists and used on this blog for educational purposes. Selling, printing, or repurposing artwork without an artist’s permission is not nice or permitted. Thanks!

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