The drawings are unfolded to me, a spiritual unfoldment. After I draw them, I have a spiritual remembrance and I know what is pictured.

Joseph E. Yoakum

Joseph E. Yoakum

Celebrated for his vivid, imaginative landscapes that combine memory with emotional impressions, Joseph Yoakum did not start creating art until the last decade before his death. Because his own accounts of his personal origins and history were wont to vary, it is hard to give precise biographical information for Yoakum. He was, however, born in 1891, and traveled a considerable amount throughout his life, and claimed to have run away from home as a teenager to join the circus. He served in the US Army during World War I, and, in the 1940s operated an ice cream parlor in Chicago with his wife.

Yoakum was a private person whose works were greatly influenced by his spiritual beliefs and experiences. He attributed the beginning of his career as an artist to a dream he had in the early 1960s, and began to draw on small pieces of paper with pen and pencil. From 1965 to 1970, he would often complete several drawings in a single day and the majority of his roughly 2,000 known works were landscapes. In 1966, Yoakum took up residence in a live-work storefront in Chicago’s South Side. Two years later, at the age of 77, Yoakum had his first exhibition at Chicago’s Edward Sherbeyn Gallery, which drew the attention of School of the Art Institute of Chicago professor Whitney Halstead, among others. Halstead would go on to co-curate the 1972 exhibition of Yoakum’s work at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Yoakum passed away shortly after his exhibition at the Whitney. Left with many of the artist’s remaining drawings, Halstead donated them to the Art Institute of Chicago, where the collection is the largest of the artist’s works in existence. In recent years, the institution worked with the Museum of Modern Art and the Menil Drawing Institute to present the 2021 MoMA exhibition Joseph E. Yoakum: What I Saw. Of his extraordinary scenes, MoMA curatorial fellow Jordan Jones offered, “Yoakum’s landscapes transcend traditional geography to show that the land is not just what we find on a map; land is entwined with lived experience, memory, and faith, and, in this way, is both deeply human and sacred.”

Auction Results Joseph E. Yoakum