Every time you walk into Art House Gallery, it’s hard not to wonder how young Joshua Yeldham feels about being represented by a gallery that’s run by his mum Di and his older sister Ali. Do you suppose they keep his fridge drawings in the stock room? ‘Look’, they might say holding up a drawing of a house with a big smiley sun in a bright blue sky, ‘He did this when he was 3 and we always knew he was an artist! Playing with his little paint set and smock in the backyard! He’s such a clever boy!”
Joshua Yeldham is Art House Gallery’s best artist and his slightly crazed version of Donald Friend meets Norman Lindsay via Brett Whiteley has been very popular with collectors who demand little from their art other than it looks nice and is big. Yeldham is fond of red, a popular colour for paintings, and also of brown, another colour that fits in nicely with interior design schemas.
Yeldham has branched out into new direction for his latest Art House show, Birds Nest Diaries, and there’s a story attached to it. About six years ago, Yeldham went for a drive in the country that took him right out to Cameron’s Crossing in north western NSW near the borders of NSW, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory. His van broke down and he took refuge in an abandoned bus while he waited for his van to be fixed in town. The bus had a tin roof and, as the sun began to beat down and his brain began to boil, he was visited by the spirit of a local lady of the night. Somehow – and here the story gets a little vague as it was told to us by an eager gallery assistant – Yeldham got a hold of a photo of this lovely, curvaceous lady of the 1940s and a bunch of other pictures which he kept as souvenirs of his days trapped in the outback.
We’re not sure if Yeldham had a Wake In Fright style experience, but the results of his desert sojourn have created a body of work that isn’t half bad. In a series of works ranging from small to enormous, Yeldham took the photos, double exposed them with his own photos of Cameron’s Corner, blew them up, painted over them, and presented them for our consideration.
We were quite taken with the artist’s joie de vivre and his application of ink over the large photos of busty dames that added a weird element to the images that was quite unsettling. As to how or what these white markings and decorative flourishes are meant to add to the pictures, we don’t know, but we thought of them as being something like the a combination of the Norman Lindsay school of ‘derrrrty pictures’ crossed with doilies and cobwebs. When we were told that the naked lady photos had been distributed by the government in the 40s to soldiers on active service in WW2 we felt a little bit disturbed.
Saying something isn’t ‘half bad’ is just another way of saying something is 50% bad, 50% OK, but Yeldham’s work is starting from a place that is decorative with some embarrassingly bogus artist-in-the-desert-experience type expressionism laid over the top. Yeldham is also leading exponent of the school bad art known as “I thought it was art but I was wrong” where you look at something and think its alright, but after awhile your realise it isn’t. The big change in Birds Nest Diaries is that the badness takes awhile to wear off and even now, as we ponder the photos of these bashful ladies covered in white ink – and ignoring the possible Freudian implications – we think this isn’t half bad at all.