Native American headdresses, coyotes, and other imagery evoking the American Southwest are not the subjects one would expect from a metro Detroit born-and-raised artist. But Tim Yanke’s artwork is deeply personal.
At the age of 13, he lost his sister, then a student at Northern Arizona University. “It laid a major imprint on me,” he says of this life-altering event. “The Southwest, the colors, the brilliance of the blue, the sky, the mountains – it tattooed into my spirit, and I started to paint it more and more.” Other frequent subjects for Yanke are dragonflies, which are a tribute to his mother, and the American flag, which he evokes in his “American Yanke” series, and began painting after September 11, 2001.
Despite the easily recognizable subjects, Yanke’s paintings, which he creates in his Birmingham studio, are anything but ordinary.
“I get to paint something no one has ever seen before. I go deep into the psyche and put it on canvas,” he says of the way he uses “nontraditional colors… I may know it’s an elk or a bear, but I have no idea what colors I’m going to use. It’s not sketched out. It’s the thrill of the journey.”
This creative energy is fueled by music. “The most important tool in my entire studio is music. It’s insane. I don’t know what my paintings would look like if I painted in silence.”
With recent exhibitions ranging in locale from Nashville to New Zealand, and frequent travels on cruise ships thanks to representation by Park West Gallery, Yanke’s artwork may be better known outside of Michigan. But he’s hoping that all will change soon. With a studio in Birmingham and a second on the way on northern Michigan’s Torch Lake, Yanke finally sees opportunity to work more locally thanks to an infusion of arts activity in Detroit. “I feel like I’m a product and son of Detroit, but I’m on the outside looking in, and I want to play.”
Yanke holds a degree in graphic arts from the University of North Texas, and spent almost two decades working in corporate America. Yet he says he was always painting, spending his weekends and vacation days creating inventory to participate at local art fairs. With the encouragement of his wife, he left his job and has been a full-time painter ever since.
“We all grew up as artists, and over the years, people put the crayons and pencils down. Over the years, we’re told to stay between the lines and unbeknownst to everyone, that dampens everyone’s creative outlets. I kept going with that.”
Yanke continues to innovate. His recent work incorporates augmented reality into his paintings. Through the help of a phone app, viewers can hold up their phones to his paintings and butterflies will fly out towards them.
“As an artist, you have to keep evolving.”
Photo: Laurie Tennent