Joshua Yeldham: Providence

6 - 21 November 2020
Exhibition Text

Providence, one meaning of the word is good fortune. Another is nature’s ability to yield an abundance of spiritual solace.  In Joshua Yeldham’s garden there is a tree. It’s hanging roots and trunk are like a carved curtain. It’s fronds loop and dance into the light. The tree looks archaic and yet it is only sixteen winters old. Steeped in shadow, the tree provides.


Some might see this wild planting as an arbour for nests. Others will wish for enough wood to build an Ark.  But for this artist the tree is being harvested both within and without. It is planted in the soil outside his window and upon the thirsty paper quenched by ink. It bends sideways and enters his house, uprooting symmetry, curling around mountains and probing the mangrove mud. Incarnated on canvas the tree is swollen, a growing blessing. It is also intricate and unpredictable. Insects tattoo its branches and claws scratch its skin. The oblique geometry of the tree curves like a river. Its’ nocturnal life is secret. Like the paintings that whisper to one another in the artist’s studio at night; the tree does not sleep.


Yeldham is alive to primal complicity. He seems to study each hollow and root network until it forms human veins and heart chambers. His carved drawings awaken and unfurl their lines like fern fronds. The paintings have the power to engulf you. So much so that you want to walk inside their paths and run your hands over their ridged skins like soft dry bark.

Yeldham planted a tree and grew a language beyond landscape conventions.  From his earliest paintings made in the Strzelecki desert, he saw the tree not as a visual convenience to create scale or context but as a complete cosmos within itself. “People need to immerse and not objectify,” he said simply. And as a result his artworks became larger and more enveloping over time.


These are elaborate offerings. The ornamentation on their surface works like a map to a place you already inhabit. And the time the artist takes to paint, draw, carve, sculpt and glaze each piece is rewarded by the time it deserves to know them: To interlock with the vibrational hum between positive and negative space or just stare at a feather. When you are close to these works you want to lay your hands upon their furrows and perhaps even lean in, just the same way we place our body on the skin of a forest elder. To touch and to listen. To be hold and be held.


Some of the more monochrome pieces in this series feature expanses of contemplative space. White and black are used in a deeply meditative almost minimal way.  But many more are full to bursting. Brimming with an ambition to expand on a kinetic path of germination. As a counterpoint to all the minutae, massive owls and curving rivers calm the eye. They also help us to anchor somewhere in the rushing tide of lines. Because Yeldham does paint, draw and sculpt in a torrent.

This is an artist who pays homage through detail. Limitless nature is reflected by infinite reply. To reach this point, his surfaces gain depth through a gradual accretion of marks. Dragging lines forward and then peeling them back, staining and then erasing with the drill tip: each painting becomes a palimpsest for the sky, the water and the earth.

Almost all of his works begin with calligraphy, often drawn in the terrains he loves: The Hawkesbury River, Mt. Cooke in New Zealand, Lord Howe Island. The artworks that break with this pattern are his photographs, taken with a phone camera and exploded to life size or larger. The photographs for this exhibition were taken in the mountains of Colorado. He looked at the trees and after a time he noticed the trees looking back at him:
“When I was in the forest I was struck by the eyes of the fallen limbs, hundreds of eyes inside the broken sockets of branches and in the hollows of the trees. Over eight days of walking I had a strong feeling of nature’s intelligence. It was her watching me rather than me casting my gaze over the landscape.”


In conversation with this moment, Yeldham returned to the studio and carved eyes into the tree trunks. The eye, in his view, is both a portal and a primal key to survival. Forests are vulnerable to predators; they live in a constant state of vigil. In this rare instance the artist uses personification to share his point. Framed by the pale void of the snow, a tree sheds tears that look like seed pearls. She appears bejewelled. In some ways this is a strange thing for an Animist to do. You cannot ‘add’ to nature. But these tiny carvings upon the tree are not possessive. The artist is not marking territory or merely adding extra optical depth. Joshua Yeldham has been holding this dialogue for a long time. The trees know him. “It is adornment” he says “and it is reverence.”

Anna Johnson

Art Writer

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