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The Mystical Realism of Sam Yeates

Sam Yeates is an American original. He grew up on a farm 16 miles outside of Stephenville, Texas. In that part of north/central Texas there wasn't much in the way of exposure to the arts. That is, if you don't count the occasional feed store calendar and a lot of good country music. However, the long, flat and empty Texas landscape offered Sam a blank canvas for his mind while the endless sky and magnificent ever-changing cloud formations fueled his imagination and dreams.

In 1975, after graduating from North Texas State University with a degree in Fine Arts, he moved from Denton, Texas to Austin. There, he had an old friend playing in the Doak Snead Band, a local Austin group. They, in turn, had connections at the famous Austin music emporium, the Armadillo World Headquarters. Sam landed a job in the ‘Dillo’s kitchen where he got noticed for the signage he created. Soon, he was doing music posters for the Armadillo as well.

The Armadillo, which was housed in a cavernous old national guard armory, showcased an amazing array of local and internationally known music groups (from Willie Nelson to Charles Mingus, from the Austin Ballet to the Talking Heads). To go along music performing in the area, the Austin music poster scene had developed into well known art form. It was as iconic and popular in Texas as the San Francisco poster scene had been in California a decade earlier. Nationally recognized and much loved by the musicians who passed through the city in those years, the artists who created them became icons themselves. Jim Franklin, Guy Juke, Micael Priest, Kerry Awn, Danny Garrett and Sam all illustrated & designed hundreds if not thousands of posters between them as well as numerous album covers, comic books, murals and advertising campaigns.

Within a year of arriving in Austin, Sam was working full time as a

freelance artist and had taken up residence in the infamous ‘Roachmore’ House. Roachmore, which was named for its pesky little visitors, was a two-story southern mansion that had seen better days. Sam shared the ‘estate’ with Ramsey Wiggins and Dave Moriaty, who were both local legends themselves. Wiggins was the Public Relations Director at the Armadillo (and controlled the poster assignments). Moriaty had recently returned to Austin from San Francisco where he had helped create the Underground Cartoon scene as publisher of Rip Off Press. Rip Off published not only Austin artists Gilbert Shelton and Jack Jackson but also such luminaries as Robert Crumb and Larry Gonick. Moriaty had become the publisher of the Austin Sun newspaper. Yeates’ association with Wiggins and Moriaty led directly to multiple assignments for the Austin Sun. In short order, Sam had become a mainstay at the two main centers of alternative culture in Austin.

Branching out from the Armadillo and the Sun, Sam developed an extensive client list that included Lone Star Brewing Company, Willie Nelson, Heileman Brewing Company, Budweiser Brewing Co., Warner Brothers Records and First Publishing of Chicago. His work also appeared in publications as diverse as Texas Monthly and Rolling Stone magazines. Eventually, Yeates discovered Photoshop which, in turn, opened the door to the videogame industry, which led to a position at Disney Studios.

While Sam was building his successful commercial art career he never stopped pushing his own vision through his personal artwork and paintings. He has had, or been part of, many exhibits and gallery shows. Over the years, he has become a mainstay at a number of art galleries around the country. They are the Cohen Rese Gallery in San Francisco, Dos Lunas Gallery in Taos, New Mexico, and Davis Gallery in Austin. His art is part of the permanent collections of the Lone Star, Budweiser and Heileman Brewing Companies; North East Missouri State University; the Eugene C. Barker Texas History Center at the University of Texas; Smithsonian Museum, Washington D.C.; Hills, Field and Bartlett, Austin, Texas; Corpus Christi Art Museum, Corpus Christi, Texas; and Sky Ranch, Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as others.

“To me, a painting is like a play unfolding on a stage. The artist conveys a personal world created from his imagination, memories and past experiences. In my work, this theatrical analogy applies. It is for the most part narrative, and much of this imagery is a result of growing up on a farm in north central Texas.

The open landscapes seen from a porch at twilight, or the still water of a swimming pool reflecting the sky at dusk, are drawn from my memories of youth and help set the mood for many of my paintings. Other elements such as cats stalking birds around the barns, and horses standing quietly in the evening, have also found their way into my work. Country roads, paved and gravel, play a part as well. For young people in rural Texas, many mysteries of life are experienced for the first time in the quiet loneliness of country roads. These same roads are also the paths to adventure and discovery. I first learned to dance in the lights of a car on a gravel road with the music from the radio.

In The Witching Hour series, these vistas of late evening and distant roads are combined with winged women. In these paintings, the women are less angelic and more the initiators into life’s mysteries. The car lights in the distance lend a sense of mystery while presenting the question of who is in the car, and where are they going, in this journey through life.

Another element that has had a constant presence in my work are wings. I have always had a fascination with what wings represent. In my youth I had dreams that I could miraculously fly, only to wake and find myself still bound to this world. I believe wings represent freedom, escape and the wish we all have to transcend this existence. Whether in the playful imagery of winged cats in the No Birds Would Sing If Cats Had Wings paintings, or breaking the two-dimensional barrier of the picture plane in the more classical themed Orpheus, Icarus and Muse series, wings have played a large part in my work.”

- Sam Yeates, April 2017

To see more of Sam Yeates’ work, visit:

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All artwork Sam Yeates © 2017

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