In Judy Youngblood’s new body of work at William Campbell Contemporary Art in Fort Worth, you’ll find familiar themes and preoccupations from her previous work. There is vibrant use of color and juxtaposition of dynamic shapes. There are glimpses of specific landscape elements, such as seascapes and references to atmospheric turbulence. There are references to weather, with abstract symbols of precipitation and an abundance of meteorological symbols representing different types of advancing weather fronts. She’s inspired by weather maps — their curving lines with triangles used for cold fronts and lines marked with half circles representing warm fronts.
The majority of the works on paper in this show are acrylic paintings over pencil and charcoal drawings, and traces of the drawings can be seen through the translucent layers of paint. There are also four prints included in the show in which Youngblood seamlessly combines etching and relief techniques with touches of gouache and an occasional collage element.
On the surface, Youngblood’s imagery appears to be about weather, and her previous show in 2014 at William Campbell was actually titled Changing Weather. Youngblood’s commentary on her work indicates that her underlying theme is the complexity of human lives and our conflicting desires for stability and change. “They’re very much about people’s personal lives,” she states. She has previously cited the extremes of Texas weather as a metaphor for the variability and endurance of the human spirit.
Several works in the show feature the graphic images of waves that originated as a linocuts in her prints years ago, but in this group of paintings it seems that there is less reliance on the stylized weather elements like raindrops, hail and snow that were often repeated in her earlier prints. The paintings and drawings in this show place more emphasis on the tensions and contrasts between the vividly colorful biomorphic forms that seem to twist, fold and collide with one another. The push and pull between the shapes gives these works, in the artist’s words, a “general sense of things being in disarray.”
In Advancing Front, the yellow arc of the symbol for the advancing front creates a sense of depth that’s more acute than in the other works. The droplets of rain on the ocean’s surface are palpable. In Rising Water, a unique landscape detail (less stylized and more realistic images of trees) can be glimpsed near the bottom of the work.
With all of Youngblood’s thematic emphasis on weather and the oceans, it’s hard not to look at this body of work without it generating thoughts about climate change and the powerful forces that are even now shaping life on this planet in unforeseen ways. One work, Unexpected Changes/Modern Woman makes the metaphor more explicit. It is the only work to include an overt figural element — a female figure appears engulfed by water and greenish smog and bound by external forces. A more positive interpretation may view the female figure as being empowered with a protean type of creative potential.
Dark Wave is the largest painting in the gallery and it seems to also include feminine imagery. The large pink form in the upper left of the paper is suggestive of an ovary bursting with eggs, perilously suspended over the turbulent waters below. Works like these and the show’s title, Unsettled Conditions, further suggest an underlying commentary about the current political upheaval in the U.S. In the same way that we have no control over the weather, the ongoing sideshow in Washington, D.C. creates a constant state of anxiety and frustration about our present impotence.
Regardless of what the viewer reads into these works, Youngblood presents a brilliant and engaging show of lush color deployed in powerfully dynamic compositions.
Extended through June 29, 2019 at William Campbell Contemporary Art, Fort Worth