Tim Yanke was born in Detroit, Michigan, the youngest of six siblings. His parents noted and encouraged his artistic talent at a very young age, allowing him to find his way toward art school. Yanke attended the University of North Texas in Denton where he completed his studies in studio art, receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1986. After graduating, he opened his studio. In addition to painting, he initially accepted assignments from a local marketing company and Ameritech/AT&T, working as a graphic designer. He had his first exhibition when he was 23 years old, selling 23 of the 26 exhibited paintings.
Since he was 12, he’s had a deep interest in Southwest America. Its arts and culture, colors, and traditions are all present in Yanke’s work, creating his “Neo-West” style. Growing up, Yanke remembers sitting in the backseat with a sketchbook as his family drove down Highway 40 to visit his sister at Northern Arizona University. His most vivid memory is looking out at the panhandle of Texas while they drove at night, seeing the velvet black of the sky, twinkling with millions of diamond stars. He remembers seeing his first tumbleweed outside of Albuquerque and his first cactus outside of Sedona.
In 1976, when his sister passed away unexpectedly, his love for the southwest only grew, reminding him of driving to see her at school. This made an incredible, lasting impression on him, and he began painting from his heart, using the process as both catharsis and a form of nostalgia.
Yanke’s art has become personal, powerful, and purely abstract, using boldly saturated hues that burst forth from his often large-scale paintings. He also likes to take annual trips back to the Southwest to collect traditional Native American art and artifacts to use in his paintings. For one series, he even collected 200 buffalo skulls. He’s remarked that each time he visits a favorite place, it feels new again. Especially in New Mexico, the colors are more alive than anywhere else. The clouds are whiter. The ground has more red. His surroundings seem to almost vibrate with energy and warmth, feeding his creativity.
There are recurring themes found in Yanke’s work, as well. The dragonfly and American flag are two of his most popular themes, each derived from personal stories. Growing up in a German-Italian family of antique-lovers, Yanke spent a lot of time traveling the Midwest with his parents from auctions to estate sales. In one lucky find, his mother purchased a rare leaded antique lamp with a dragonfly on it. It spent its time in the plastic-covered living room of his home for the remainder of Yanke’s childhood, and looking back, he associates the lamp with his mother.
Making its way into his paintings, the dragonfly has become a very personal and nostalgic connection to his mother, paired with a spray-painted motif of doilies, another memory of his childhood living room. Yanke’s collectors often share their own personal connections to the dragonfly, recalling family members and special moments in their lives that are pulled out of his work.
American flag, lightheartedly dubbed “Yanke Doodle,” has become an amalgamation of patriotism and diversity. After 9/11, Yanke and his son, Angelo, purchased a flagpole for their home, feeling the sudden urge, like many, to increase their patriotism. Since he believes that America is a melting pot of all sorts, Tanke wanted to include the colors of many different flags within his “Yanke Doodle.” As the series continued, his flags became more and more colorful, responding to all parts of America and the world.
Great abstract painters of the 20th century, like Willem de Kooning, Kandinsky, Klee, Motherwell, Pollock, and Rauschenberg, were highly influential for Yanke as he developed the structure of his work. Much of his inspiration comes from Georgia O’Keeffe quotes, which are posted across his studio, which has turned into a place of his family’s memories. Tickets to a Phish concert, vacation photos, wooden Indians, stained glass windows, and even a neon sign that says, “Marry me, Nicky,” are objects peppering the environment of Yanke’s studio. Old, retro décor is also at the heart of Yanke’s inspiration, and he’s constantly acquiring what he calls “new curiosities.”
Yanke has no preconceptions when he starts to work on a painting. Incited by the energy inherent in loud music, he creates his imagery spontaneously. “My paintings never settle,” he says. “They constantly change in interpretation with each new discovery. They morph into different depths and elements.” Listening to anything from the Rolling Stones and Widespread Panic to the Grateful Dead and nature soundtracks, Yanke can’t paint without music. He focuses on a bright color palette to attract the viewer and attempts to cathartically rein all his passion and creative energies into each work. He can’t define his technique, either. When asked, he responds that he’ll paint with anything that leaves a mark: chalk, house paint, spatulas, tar… he’ll use almost any materials to create his works.
In 2011 Yanke completed his largest painting, the 7 ½ by 12 foot acrylic on canvas, “Tribute to the American Flat Lands.” This painting was commissioned by The Henry Autograph Collection in Dearborn, Michigan.
Yanke resides in the Detroit area with his wife and two sons, where he also maintains his studio.
To learn more about the Tim Yanke Collection at Park West Gallery, please visit Yanke’s artist website.