Like a lot of new mothers, Sarah Boyts Yoder put her career aside for a few years to focus on her children. But although early parenthood resulted in decreased production for the painter, it also affected her work in a positive way.
“Having kids gives you some perspective,” Yoder says. “It really makes you take yourself a lot less seriously, tests your sense of humor. I can see how that comes through in my work. In some ways it makes you bolder, because you’re not so afraid of things being so precious anymore. You have to be flexible with children.”
Working out of a small studio behind her Wagener Terrace home, Yoder has been getting back on track with her career. The Fort Worth, Texas, native moved to Charleston in 2006 with her husband, a clinical psychologist. After having her first child in 2008, she managed to stay somewhat involved in the art scene by contributing to fringe events like Planned Parenthood’s Re-Nude and the Fresh pop-up shops. Most recently, she’s been getting back into the spotlight with shows at Oak Barrel Tavern and the Flagship co-working facility. Later this month, she’ll exhibit works at Costa + Williams, a new dental practice on James Island.
Yoder’s paintings are typically very bright, multilayered, and abstract, calling to mind the works of local artists Tim Hussey and Sally King Benedict. Her paint-splattered studio is cluttered with containers of all sorts — gallons of house paint, cans of fluorescent spray-paint, purple kid’s paint (borrowed from daughter Sophie) — along with stacks of paper scraps ripped from old books and magazines. She admits it’s a bit of a mess, but it’s the perfect environment for her playful mixed-media works.
“I pretty much just let it go,” Yoder says of her creation process. If a scrap of paper seems to fit, she’ll paste it on. If a Sharpie calls out to her, she’ll pick it up. She often finds herself returning to the same symbols, shapes, and colors. Lately, she’s been drawn to shades of blue, but when she was pregnant with her son Zeke, she experienced a major yellow kick. Generally working on one painting at a time, she applies layers and layers of paint and paper until the piece feels finished.
“A painting can change so much from one day to the next, and I think that ends up showing through because you see a lot of layering and shapes coming through from the background, or some depth of things hiding underneath,” Yoder says. “That’s sort of the frustrating, amazing thing about painting for me. It’s like you’re on this emotional roller coaster because you’re working on something for two weeks and it’s just sucking and then in five minutes you get it. You never know when that moment’s going to come, but it feels amazing, and I guess that’s what keeps you working.”
When she does get stuck on a painting, she’s discovered an unorthodox method for moving along. “I usually just figure out whatever it is that I like most about the painting, and I paint over it,” she says. “Because usually what’s happening is that you’re making one part of your painting ultra precious and basically you’re just painting around it because you want to save it somehow. Once you paint over it, you’re free, and you can take more risks.”
Look closely enough and you might even see some of Sophie’s contributions among the layers. “I let her come in sometimes and just play,” she says. “I love seeing the way she makes marks … I admire those. That’s like the ultimate gestural drawing, it’s really pure.”
Yoder says you can see evidence of her daughter’s hand in some of the paintings on view at Oak Barrel Tavern. And it’s that fun-loving, relaxed attitude that is key to appreciating the artist’s work.
“Especially work that’s really abstract, it can be intimidating for people to look at or even to say that they like because they feel like they need to really have a big explanation about why they like something,” Yoder says. “I want it to be simple. I want them to be able to say, ‘I like that because that shape reminds me of a boat.’ I want it to be open to interpretation. I want it to be accessible.”