Paul Yank: His Genius
Sculpture & Prints
May 18 - September 24, 2023
Saturday, May 20, 3 PM to 5:30 PM
Renowned Cedarburg artist Paul J. Yank left an incredible legacy as a beloved mentor, talented printmaker, and master sculptor. His ability to think and create three-dimensionally was where his true genius lived. Yank’s early career was dominated by large-scale sculptural creations while in his late career, the artist focused on printmaking and used it as a vehicle to continue realizing his three-dimensional inspirations. His unique approach to printmaking, drawing, and painting was always sculptural in nature. In this exhibition, a selection of Yank’s prolific oeuvre will be featured, representing his high level of expertise in both sculpture and printmaking.
Yank was encouraged throughout his early life to pursue a career in the arts. During his formative years in catholic school, he created artworks that drew the attention of the nuns, so much so that they began to ask him to draw for projects that increased in complexity and importance as he got older. This encouragement was what he needed to put a more conventional career path to the side. He received a BFA from the progressive Layton School of Art (later known as the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design or MIAD) in 1958. With this artistic groundwork, he would later study sculpture at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee and when he entered the U.S. Marine Corps, he studied bridge engineering while also studying art at the Kyoto University in Japan for three and a half years. His years as a student stirred his imagination and instilled a deep interest in other cultures, giving him a foundation to explore multiple art mediums.
Upon receiving his degree in 1958, Yank was selected in a national competition for an artist-in-residence at Milwaukee’s natural history museum, known today as the Milwaukee Public Museum. During his seven years there, he studied cultural anthropology while designing and building figural sculptures for the Native American, African, and Old Milwaukee departments. By the mid-1960s, Yank had transitioned his avocation to his full-time career and began making large scale sculptures, fountains, and wall reliefs to fulfill commissions for corporate, public, and private venues.
Yank moved his family to Cedarburg in 1966, purchasing the former Weber Brewery building complex for use as a larger studio space. It was there he created the most significant pieces of his career and helped create a community that encouraged artistic expression and growth. Over the years, Yank enhanced Cedarburg’s reputation as an artist colony when he transformed the 1840s stone building into a welding and printmaking studio, gallery space for local artists, and an educational center for instructional classes in sculpture, painting, drawing, life drawing, and printmaking. In the early 1970s, he helped establish the Firehouse Fine Arts Association which later became known as the Wisconsin Fine Arts Association and subsequently as the Ozaukee Art Center when it moved to the historic Washington School and then to Yank’s brewery complex. Up until his death, Yank continued to be a mentor, shared his university-quality presses, and instructed artists in various types of printmaking.
Paul Yank, Warrior & Spirits, monoprint, 24" x 30"
Yank’s Three-Dimensionality in Metal and on Paper
Paul Yank had an innate genius. Nothing was ever an accident, but was the result of natural talent, experience, and curiosity. This exhibition exemplifies Yank’s masterful creation of compositional complexity whether it be with an intricate design of metal and stained glass or stratified monoprints with such depth that it challenges the definition of traditional monoprinting.
The process of making one sculpture for Yank was slow and tedious. It would often take up to one year to finish with intermittent breaks to make prints, an activity that allowed his body a rest from the intense physical nature of shaping metal and glass. Yank’s process to fabricate sculpture and achieve the dramatic layers and avant-garde forms was split into four stages. First, Yank would melt and mold rods of steel, gradually building the skeleton of the figure or composition in space. Then he would construct the more complex parts of the figure such as hands and the face. In the third stage of his later sculptures, he would add tiffany-style glass, the process that was often the slowest. Finally, Yank would fashion a base if the sculpture required it.
All of Yanks’ sculptures beg to be viewed from all angles, especially those with stained glass. The stained glass reflects and reacts to the changing of natural light from dusk till dawn. With every step the viewer takes around the sculpture, a new detail is unveiled and a glimpse of colored light seeps through. The sculptures exemplify a balance of strength, lightness, hard forms, and delicacy, an aesthetic that may have been informed by Yank’s time studying bridge engineering in Japan.
Paul Yank, "Prometheus Strangling the Vulture", monoprint, 38" x 31"
Paul Yank, Torso, welded steel
with stained glass, 46" x 19" x 11"
Paul Yank, "Boar's Head", welded steel
with stained glass, 31" x 19" x 24"
The complex and sometimes complicated patterns and three-dimensional structure of Yank’s sculptures are translated into his prints. Yank’s process often involved multiple perspectives to achieve varying results. While Yank mastered many forms of printmaking, the monoprint, which was entirely his own invention, became his primary and favored process. Layer upon layer of color and sophisticated composition form a series of monoprints. The monoprint for Yank was a more complex version of the single-run monotype prints as it included creating unique images from multiple variations of the initial layer of intaglio inks.
The prints and sculptures of Yank’s later years, as represented in this exhibition, regularly pay homage to his experiences and influences with an openness and regard for cultures beyond Wisconsin. Yank’s subject matter derives from a variety of world cultures and religions as informed by his cultural anthropological studies, found appreciation of the indigenous and ancient culture of Japan, and world travels.