No second chances in the land of a thousand dances.
– Ry Cooder
I have always known that Liat Yossifor’s paintings don’t belong just in LA. Of course they are made there amidst the particularities of the California condition, the light, the bleached colours, the unswept horizon – and it is even tempting, in a slightly silly literal manner to see Yossifor’s uncompromising gestures as series of turnpikes, viewed from above like desaturated urban metaphors for the City of Freeways. But of course they’re not.
These paintings are a compressed recounting of spirit and movement. In this sense they manage to conflate, whilst simultaneously critiquing, the masculine heroism of action painting with the turmoil and vivacity of performance. One thinks of Carolee Schneemann and the radical way that she used her body as a mechanism of expanded gesture and the way that Yossifor questions the very notion of gesture and narrative. Yossifor unthreads the surface, in fact the body of the painting, tugging forcefully at the Ariadnean thread that lead her in. Though not as physically intrusive as Schneemann’s Interior Scroll I have the sense that Yossifor is extricating a buried internal narrative and leaving us with a landscape shaped by an authentic performance that is gratefully free of irony and cynicism which have been the currency of recent times.
In this exhibition of new paintings Yossifor has made two dramatic shifts. One is colour and the second is proportion. The relative neutrality of her more familiar, essentially square form is supplemented by a grand portrait format that is well over 2 metres tall (85 inches for anyone still here from the 19thcentury) One of the paintings that has this new size is prosaically titled Tall Red. It could not be any redder. I see it and I hear the strains of Jason Molina’s poignant lyric “your hair is coxcomb red and your eyes are viper black”. For this is painting that has a visceral intensity and an inflamed temperament. Could it be that Yossifor’s passionate excavations now dovetail with a colour that answers their innate potency?
The glorious melee of gesture and inscription that comprise the ground that Yossifor makes is equally about removal as it is addition. Pigment is not politely wiped away, rather Yossifor scribes and gouges at the surface in a powerful elliptical dance that simultaneously makes gesture by expunging it. This determined and concentrated “all prima” performance, one where the viscosity of the pigment bookends her opportunity to work, to uncover and conceal deeper gestures gives each painting a finite gestation. If she is unhappy about the piece for any reason, then it is duly scraped off…there is indeed no second chances in the land of a thousand dances…
So what remains? Yossifor’s paintings deliver a deeply felt aggregate of physical and emotional perseverance. The performance certainly invites the opportunity, once again for this resilient act of painting itself to emerge as the fundamental agency of a deep unlanguaged communication. Paintings’ Rasputin-like indomitability was even expressed by Schneemann and holds very true for Yossifor, “I’m a painter. I’m still a painter and I will die a painter.”
Andrew Jensen, April 2020