The Wind Blows Cold. Photography: Courtesy Park West Gallery
The Wind Blows Cold. Photography: Courtesy Park West Gallery

With his studio in Michigan, Tim Yanke pulls inspiration from the Southwest.

“I’m lucky to be alive and very grateful,” Tim Yanke says from his studio in Detroit. Having barely survived a recent highway rollover accident, he’s finally back to painting after recovering in an out-of-state hospital and recuperating for a couple of months at home. Now the real healing can begin.

The pain may not be as intense now, but the inspiration is. To the many who have followed Yanke’s career, there’s a perceptible shift, a new visual chapter beginning. His work has always been about powerful personal totems, but now there’s more clarity, more color, even more confidence. And there’s a more pronounced sense of spirituality.

There’s sense of place, too. Yanke cruises the world for on-board auctions of his paintings, and he’s breaking ground in Northern Michigan for a second studio, but the Southwest holds a special place in his life and art. He’s just back from another battery-charging trip to Santa Fe — a favorite destination for his wife and “driving wheel,” Nicky, and him. “The weather, the clouds, the blue of the sky — as an artist, I was just on a beautiful vibe. I couldn’t wait to get in the studio. All these hues and colors are so vibrant — they look like they should be on a piñata or on a front door with ristras hanging on it. It’s a whole new direction in terms of vibrancy and volume of the color.”

He’s also working oversize a lot (his This Ol’ Cowboy is 72-by-60 inches), and he’s surprising himself by painting lots of wildlife. “Bears, wolves, eagles, buffalo, elk, all North American wildlife — I’ve never considered myself a wildlife artist and still don’t, but lately I’ve been incorporating them, almost like spirit animals.”

Music continues to color his paintings as much as actual pigments. “My iPad and satellite radio could be my most important tools in the studio,” Yanke says. “Music totally drives my inspiration and the painting itself.” On any given day, his personal soundtrack could include anything from Phish, the Grateful Dead, and the Allman Brothers to Glenn Miller, Bill Monroe, Native American flute and drums — even vintage radio episodes of Gunsmoke.

Yanke’s canvases pulsate with energy and contemporary color, as if the music that attended their creation is still present. In that visual rhythm, the iconic becomes personal; the personal, iconic : the dragonfly from his mother’s Tiffany lamp that he wasn’t allowed to touch; the four-leaf clover that symbolizes Shamrock, Texas, where his 20-year-old sister was killed in a car wreck on her way home from college for the holidays; the American flag; cowboys; headdresses; meaningful quotes from Native American leaders; the four directions; the characteristic blue of New Mexico.

Symbols of his most significant life experiences end up on his handmade Rocketbuster boots (he’s currently collaborating with company owner Nevena Christi on another custom pair) and in his work. “Each painting is another pushpin in the soul, an emotional destination,” Yanke says. “There’s a sense of vulnerability because I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve, sharing my childhood and sacred things that have happened in my life. My work is really a narration of my life.”

Tim Yanke is represented by Park West Gallery in Southfield, Michigan.

From the January 2017 issue.