Finding Soul Fragments with Graham Yarrington October 07 2020

Graham Yarrington is an artist based in New York, United States. An illustration senior who graduated from the prestigious Pratt Institute, Graham has been making waves on the gallery circuit.

Soul Fragments has Graham delving into a visually dynamic world of psychedelia with a reality beyond our own, humming with lines of colour and mystery.

Interview by Joseph Estorninho. Photos supplied by Graham Yarrington.

We're super excited to see what you've done for the show. Tell us about what we can expect to see.

I’ve made six paintings for the upcoming show. I tried to vary the imagery as much as possible so there would be a little bit of everything.

What is your daily art practice like currently? Do you have any daily rituals to get the creative juices flowing?

I quit drinking coffee earlier this year, so I’ve recently had to change up my routine quite a bit. On a good day I like to wake up, work out, freshen up and then get straight to working. I really prefer to start work in the morning and end in the evening, probably in part because I worked similar hours for several years in a kitchen and my body got used to it. Also I have an eye condition (intermediate uveitis) which always affects my vision but it becomes especially difficult to see nuanced details when the sun goes down. Perhaps I just need better lights in my studio, hah.

You've previously said that the landscapes in your work are informed by where you grew up in Rochester, which had wide open spaces and trees. How do you think your time in Brooklyn has affected your work?

Living in Brooklyn has affected my work in too many ways to name. I had never broken a bone before I left Rochester after high school. I’ve fractured two different bones since 2014, in addition to having such a multitude of formative experiences since moving down here. I’m certain I wouldn’t be the same person had I never moved to NYC.

Wow, so it's not just your work that changed! Can I ask which bones you broke?  Any stories you'd care to share?

I fractured my triquetral bone on my drawing hand when I was riding my bike to work in Brooklyn and someone whipped their car door open to 90 degrees without looking. I didn’t get hit by the door but I slammed on my brakes so hard that I went flying and unfortunately my instinct was to break my fall with my hands.

Then a couple years later, as I was moving around tubs of ice cream in the walk-in freezer at my old day job, a large frozen container fell onto the corner of my hand and I got what’s called a boxers fracture on my pinky knuckle. They had to put a metal pin in it to keep it in place for a month. Weirdest sensation ever was when my doctor pulled the pin out of my hand – it was a lot longer than I had imagined. So yeah, two injuries to my drawing hand since I moved down here. I ended up with a little bit of money from both injuries, but it turns out lifelong discomfort is worth a little more than a couple grand. Lesson learned.

Going back to your artwork, they now seem to take place in some kind of volcanic fantasy land.  How fleshed out is that world?

I think I’ve been exploring the “volcanic fantasy land” more lately because it feels like there is still so much mystery to uncover. However, the way I imagine it there is one giant map that includes all of the different types of environments I like to illustrate so they are all connected.

Do you find yourself giving the characters in your work storylines or are you happy to leave that up to the viewer now?

I love graphic novels and it is one of my dreams to publish a longer story in fully painted graphic novel form. I worked on one in college and have tried to develop other stories since but nothing has quite stuck enough where I’d feel confident to flesh it all out.

Your work contains a really great relationship between colour and greyscale.  Can you talk a little about that juxtaposition?

The relationship between color and greyscale, dark and light, found in my work is rooted in Carl Jung’s theory of the shadow self which I discovered in high school. I won’t bother explaining this concept for fear of butchering it, but the presence of light in darkness and darkness in light deeply fascinates me. It is also one of the reasons that the Grateful Dead will always be one of my favorite bands ever. Jerry Garcia was this emblematic smiling hippy worshipped by millions and perceived as a benevolent messiah, but just touching on the surface of his personal life and struggles with heavy drugs one can see that there was an ever present darkness casting a shadow on his life. I relate to that very much in the sense that I love to laugh and smile, but I’ve also struggled with depression most of my life.

That makes me think differently about the connection the figures have with the landscape in your work.  Looking at some of your pieces you've sent to us I especially love the cut-through geodes.  Is connection to the land something you think about a lot?  It seems that in every image you produce, the figure isn't just standing on the earth – they're involved in it somehow.

I suppose I do think about humanity's connection to the land a lot. As I said before, I grew up in Rochester and I spent a lot of time running around outside and exploring. Inventing names for certain parts of my backyard like “witches woods”, an area where the trees grew lower to the ground, leafless and gnarled like old boney hands. I like to depict humanoid figures in stone surrounded by plants because I think that’s where our rightful place should be. Living to serve the environment and be one with it rather than destroying it to make it bend to our will. Reconnecting with nature for me is to reconnect with the spiritual world, something I find myself struggling to be in touch with while living in New York.

As an artist, how have you been coping during the current COVID-19 pandemic?

I’m doing my best and taking it day by day. My future as an artist feels uncertain, but there’s so much more on the line right now. It’s hard to get in that creative zone when your brain keeps flitting back between the ten different apocalyptic headlines it consumed earlier that day. I’ve just been trying to stay informed with the essential news but aside from that I’m doing my best to not pay attention to the bullshit. I’m just hoping that widespread awareness of the United States massive systemic racism can start to create some much needed positive change.

Thanks for your time Graham and for all the awesome hard work you put into this show!