Graham Yarrington invites us into a world that is uniquely his own, and while it is shrouded in a tangible gloom and provides a home to a myriad of mysterious supernatural oddities, it still offers us light and hope. The darkness which pervades Yarrington’s work and which largely stems from his personal experiences with death, is counterbalanced with the glimmering luminescence of an optimistic connection with the unknown. Shrines and sacred objects present themselves with vivid clarity amidst monochrome scenes and afford sanctification from sadness, desolation and the endless distractions that accompany our contemporary existence in the technological era.
Graham Yarrington was born in 1991 in Rochester, New York and is currently living and working in Brooklyn, NY. An illustration senior who graduated from the prestigious Pratt Institute, Graham has been making waves on the gallery circuit, exhibiting his paintings at the likes of the Cotton Candy Machine and Gallery1988. His work as also received recognition and praise from high profile publications such as Juxtapoz and inspirational art blogs Supersonic Art and BOOOOOOOM.
WOW x WOW seized a recent opportunity to powwow with Graham and delve a little deeper into the life and inspirations of the exciting young artist. Read on to learn more about his fascinating work and get a glimpse into what lies within.
Hi Graham! Thanks ever so much for freeing up some of your valuable time to have this wee chat with us, we really appreciate it. To start us off, if you would please introduce yourself, touching on anything you feel relevant to story of Graham Yarrington the artist?
Hey, thanks for taking the time to ask the questions. I’m 24 years old and I’m from Rochester, NY. More specifically Pittsford, NY. It’s a small, proper looking suburban town that has a high school with encouraging art teachers.
We’re interested to hear about where you’re currently living and what you like about the area? What is the art scene like there and do you feel a part of that community?
I’m currently living in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. I like that the area I’m living in as it has managed to maintain much of its grittiness. I also like the very satisfying sense of validation I feel when I walk in to my local bodega to a warm welcome. Makes me feel like I actually exist. There’s a huge community of artists living in Brooklyn, I only consider myself a part of it because I live here and quietly make paintings. My first real show in Brooklyn was just a couple months ago at the Cotton Candy Machine.
In what ways did your childhood and upbringing affect your relationship with the arts?
My parents are both creative types. My Mom was an English teacher when I was younger, and she taught my siblings and I to read and write before we went to school. My Dad is an architect, which is probably where my affinity for drawing comes from. Both my parents put a limit on the amount of screens we could use when I was growing up, so my siblings and I were all encouraged to spend our time creatively/wisely.
You studied Illustration at the prestigious Pratt Institute. How was the experience of studying there for you and do you feel it was important in shaping the artist you are today?
When I applied to Pratt, I was rejected. My grades in high school were terrible, and my portfolio was pretty weak. Not long after receiving my rejection letter, I got another one telling me that I could go to the Pratt Manhattan campus for two years to get my associates degree. After that, I would have the option of transferring to the bachelors program. At this point I really had my heart set on the whole ‘art school in New York’ thing, so I went for it. After all is said and done, I think the most important part of the whole experience was the struggle. Often it felt like I was just treading water, trying to keep up with my many talented peers, as well as the expectations of the professors whose opinions I valued so highly. This coupled with the whirlwind of drama that surrounds any graduating class of art school students was certainly enough to keep me hungry for knowledge. Sometimes I wonder if I could have learned the same lessons without putting myself in a seemingly permanent debt, but I have no regrets. Pratt’s cool.
Over the last few years your artistic techniques and visual aesthetic have evolved; from your earlier cartoon inspired figurative explorations into the fascinating abstracted surrealism of your current ink and gouache works. Can you talk to us about this evolution and how it came about? What new inspirations helped you develop your creative voice?
I think the cartooning/digital work was more of a solution to a problem than anything else. I had been struggling with my identity as an artist while the people around me already seemed to have developed something unique to them. So I came up with something that was derived from Adventure Time/Regular Show/Superjail!, as well as my own experiences in the city. It was an efficient way to complete the assignments I needed to get done for school. After I graduated I was spending a lot of my time looking for Illustration work with the cartooning based portfolio I had developed in school. No one seemed to like it much, and I didn’t either. For a little while I was making some weird and occasionally interesting transitional type work, starting to touch on what I’m doing now. Then, in October of 2014, a girl I had been seeing on an off for a couple years and fell for pretty hard broke things off with me entirely, following a long and painful separation phase. About a week after this, I was in an accident on my bike and fractured my drawing wrist. The fracture wasn’t too bad, but it was extremely painful to hold a pen or a brush tightly in my hand. It was also bad enough that I had to take a full month off from my job in the kitchen. For the first time in a long while I found myself with unlimited alone time, even though I had kind of lost the ability to do my favorite thing in the world. I started doing some experimental paintings, keeping a very lose hold on my brush and playing around with ink and water. I also started to spend more time looking into myself and trying to think about what images and themes are important to me.
Aside from the appearance of your works, it appears that the subject matter has also moved on. Please talk to us about the themes that you’re currently enjoying exploring in your work?
The theme of glimmering light in darkness. Literally and figuratively. The world I live in is a gloomy place, and the belief that there is something more to it than meets the eye helps me fight through the bad days.
How do you approach the creative process? Talk us through how you construct an image. Do have a concrete idea of what it will look like before you get started? What type of reference do you use, if any?
I like to think of it as peering into a world of my own invention that is largely undiscovered so far. I really like to put curved edges on my paintings, it makes me feel like I’m looking through a cosmic port-hole into my own soul. Sometimes I have a thumbnail to start with, but many of my large paintings start by sketching in objects, piece by piece. Drafting up a piece that way makes me feel very connected to the surface I’m using. I rarely use references, I just spend a lot of time looking at the work of others.
Being an artist who works within the visual realm, can you shed some light on some of the most important inspirations and influences on your work that aren’t visual?
Music, of course. I play and sing a little, and having a second outlet that’s almost purely for fun really helps me engage further with my paintings. I like lots of different stuff, but the Grateful Dead will always have a special place in my heart. Jerry Garcia’s struggle with darkness is one of the most fascinating, heartbreaking, and inspiring stories you could ever learn about.
What do you regard as the biggest motivator for you to get up every day and make art?
The fear of the unknown, and the love of my friends/family/girlfriend. Also to a lesser extent, to make something of myself in spite of the people who never saw anything in me.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, one which you feel has contributed to shaping the person and therefore the artist you are today?
I had a friend in high school who was very close to me. When we first became friends, we were both young and rebellious. I was new to it, he was a little more seasoned. As the years past, we expanded our minds with various psychedelic experiences. We drifted apart over time, sadly. After I left town for college, I started hearing from friends how he had gotten into opiates. On my birthday, May 28th 2013, he died. Allegedly he had tried to get clean, and a relapse killed him. I probably hadn’t cried so hard since I was a child. Two years later, I was seeing a girl who was a wonderful and pained soul, she passed away the same way. Not long before that, a childhood friend was hit by an Amtrak train and dragged down the tracks to his death. This rude awakening to the reality of death opened my eyes to the possibility of life. Each of these loved ones who have passed, lives on through me and through my art. Everyone has to deal with death, and I know that there are so many people who have dealt with it in much more painful forms than I have. Be that as it may, I have formed a unique relationship with death and darkness and I believe it will be present in my work for some time.
If you could own one piece of art from any of the world’s collections what would it be and why?
‘The Hunters in the Snow’, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. I could stare at that thing all day.
What’s next for Graham Yarrington?
I’m hoping to put together a narrative piece in the next year or so, otherwise I’ll just be painting and painting. Thanks again!