Lenora Yerkes: Plumbing the Subconscious

By Ashley Shah on February 19, 2019

Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW) is a nonprofit organization that fosters a creative, collaborative community through the arts. As a part of their programming, CHAW’s Resident Gallery Manager and co-directors interview and select a gallery resident Artist from a pool of applicants derived from a public call for entry. The mission of the residency program is to “provide an opportunity for a dynamic individual artist or artist team to create a new body of work, evolve an existing body of work, or develop a project in a stimulating, supportive environment.” The residency also provides an opportunity for artists to de-mystify their process by allowing the public access to their work environment.  Each CHAW residency has culminated into an exhibition.

As the recipient of the 2019 Gallery Artist Residency at CHAW, Lenora Yerkes has interacted with the local Capitol Hill community that participates in the center’s workshops and classes. During her stay at CHAW, Yerkes has temporarily transported her entire studio to the center’s main level for six weeks, fully embedding herself in her new surroundings.

Yerkes’ Work Station. Image courtesy of Ashley Shah for East City Art.

Traditionally, Yerkes works in a quiet and contemplative setting. However, at CHAW, while there are certainly moments of tranquility, there also bustling periods of chaos as young children and their caregivers come in and out of classes, socialize with peers, and chatter in Yerkes’ makeshift studio. In the short time that she has been participating in this residency, Yerkes has already observed slight variations in her artwork as a result of adjusting her new environment. She has keenly noticed subtle changes, such as the inclusion of buildings or the addition and subtraction of color. The repetition of these buildings in her work has piqued Yerkes’ curiosity, leading her to explore untapped parts of her subconscious. In so doing, she reflects on more discreet emotions in her own life, and questions their messages and significance.

Lenora Yerkes. Rat City//One World “She finds a place unknown to her (quite by accident).” 2019. Gouache and Ink on Paper. Image courtesy of Ashley Shah for East City Art.


Lenora Yerkes. Rat City//One World “I will change it to match me! It will form to my blade!” 2019. Gouache and Ink on Paper. Image courtesy of Ashley Shah for East City Art.

Additionally, over the course of the residency, Yerkes has been recording her experiences through daily drawings, similar to keeping a diary or a personal journal. In the series titled Did/Saw/Felt, she starts by documenting her activities throughout the day, then probes the smaller details she notices and reflects on how she felt during those experiences. Yerkes has displayed these drawings sequentially on her studio wall, like a calendar, allowing visitors to observe her progress.

Lenora Yerkes. Did/Saw/Felt. January 28, 2019. Ink on Paper. Image courtesy of Ashley Shah for East City Art.


Lenora Yerkes. Did/Saw/Felt. February 1, 2019. Ink on Paper. Image courtesy of Ashley Shah for East City Art.

A major goal of Yerkes’ creative method involves listening to and understanding her inner subconscious. She fittingly draws inspiration from Surrealist painters who similarly used their artwork as a door to their subconscious. As she points to one of her favorite paintings, Ladies’ Suit by Remedios Varo, she says, “there is always a story, sometimes multiple, in every painting.”

Remedios Varo. Ladies’ Suit. 1957. Oil on Masonite. Image Courtesy of www.wikiart.org.

Influenced by Surrealists, Yerkes intends to consciously access her subconscious, or, as she put it, develop a “waking connection.” By doing so, she is able to extract a richer, more introspective story through her artwork. Her daily creative practice allows her to document various encounters, observations, and thoughts, and explore the teachings and meanings behind each quotidian, and sometimes mundane,  activities. By putting pen to paper, Yerkes finds her work incredibly meditative, deliberately drawing slowly and carefully,  contemplating each ink mark. She concentrates on drawing freely, unassumingly, and without expectation.

Yerkes’ captures her intentions during her residency at CHAW through the title of her exhibition, Circle Story. Not only does each individual symbol and object hold daily significance for Yerkes’, but its repetition helps her connect experiences from beginning to end. She further examines the way particular stories circle back, alluding to larger themes and messages from her own subconscious.

By presenting her artwork in comic form, Yerkes gives viewers a clear sequence to follow and allows the story to feel more accessible and relatable. The works include minimal amounts of text, as well, offering the audience anchor points to understand the thought process of various characters. As the viewer follows along, the works reveal Yerkes’ different personal realizations and contemplation, at times delicately, and other times more blatantly. Expressing the messages from one’s subconscious is not an easy task, even for those who are aware of oneself; yet, Yerkes has been able to journey through unexplored pockets of her mind, enhanced by her CHAW residency, setting the groundwork for complex self-discovery.

This article was funded in part by a grant from the Capitol Hill Community Foundation.  Visit their website at www.capitolhillcommunityfoundation.com