“Return to the Scene of the Crime,” an exhibition of new paintings by Robert Yarber, Distinguished Professor of Art, is on display in the Woskob Family Gallery, Penn State Downtown Theatre Center, though July 1, 2016. An artist talk and reception, open to the public, will be held Thursday, April 14, with the talk at 5:30 p.m. and reception 4:30–6:30 p.m.
A Texas native, Yarber is renowned for his dizzying large-scale paintings of figures flying in the night sky above glittering megacities. His hallucinatory style has been credited as the inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s movie “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and has earned him international acclaim. Combining the influence of ancient pre-Columbian cultures and Mexican art with modern-day schlock horror and comic-strip grotesque, Yarber’s work is at once disturbing and comedic.
“Return to the Scene of the Crime” includes seven new large-scale paintings. In mood, scale, and palette, they harken back to Yarber’s earlier work, exhibited for the first (and only) time locally at the Palmer Museum of Art in 1989. However, while several of the new works contain Yarber’s signature levitating figures, others are allied but distinct explorations of new colors, forms, and scale relationships. Together, they form a cohesive grouping that nod to the past while signaling the way forward.
According to Bonnie Collura, Penn State associate professor of art, Yarber’s works have a mystical quality. "One can imagine that within these mixed-bagged character worlds, some inhabitants are consumed in a hey-day oblivion that veils the destroying decadence in their midst, while others seem caught in a clairvoyant moment where they realize that life and land are melting from underneath,” she wrote in a catalog essay for the recent exhibition “Irrational Exuberance,” which featured works similar to the current exhibition. “In such a world, could all incoming air be coming to an end? Are the full contoured characters so round because they are gorging on whatever air may be remaining? Have the insides of the bodies whose composition seems more elastic been pricked, causing their innards to leak and twist like their shape-shifting landscape?”
Yarber joined the Penn State School of Visual Arts faculty in 1994. Represented by the Sonnabend Gallery in New York and Alex Daniels in Amsterdam, he has exhibited internationally since the 1980s, achieving widespread recognition after his inclusion in the 1984 Venice Biennale and 1985 Whitney Biennial. In 1989 Yarber was included in the “Horn of Plenty” exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. His photography has been presented by Sonnabend; Julie Saul Gallery, New York; and Galleria Valentina Moncada, Rome. His theoretical works include “The Cloud of Unknowing,” Configurations, John Hopkins University Press, 2008, and “The Body of the Painter in the Face of the Virtual,” Art and Design, London, 1996.
Image: "Royal Indiscretion," 2016. Oil on canvas, 56x76.