New Yates Gallery: Stunning and whimsical

Artist John Yates, in the doorway to his new gallery. — Photo by Susan Safford

The mid-afternoon sun was still strong last Friday, sending bright shafts into the vaulting space of painter Josh Yates’s new gallery on Lambert’s Cove Road.

Mr. Yates, a tad rumpled and a lot pleased, welcomed clients and neighbors to see new work since his last Island showing six years ago, and to see the three-year transformation of the former Lambert’s Cove Methodist Church into an art gallery.

Mr. Yates featured 15 new pieces — plein air still lifes and landscapes — art that quietly relaxed on the walls and accented the building’s restored 19th century woodwork, wide pine floors, and two period chandeliers.

For Mr. Yates, who has a studio in Providence and had a gallery in Aquinnah until four years ago, Friday was meaningful in several aspects.

“People are so excited to see the place in great shape. Although changed, it’s still familiar to them and they’re happy we respected the tradition of the church and of the community. Neighbors have been dropping by all day because they’re happy to see it. We even got a thank-you letter in The Times [Published Sept. 29] from Mabelle Medowski,” he said.

The gallery is representative of the artist, who shows up as a quiet though focused and independent man with a fierce reverence for tradition. After a year at Bard College in New York, the 44-year old Rego Park, Queens native became a self-taught artist while teaching, working with kids, and framing houses. Now his forays into architectural design augment his income.

“Now, I have a body of work. I still have a long way to go. Of course, I love to sell my work, it feels personally and financially rewarding, but I also feel my work is like a conversation with those artists who inspired me. Island artists like Allen Whiting, Stanley Murphy, and Thomas Hart Benton have informed my work.

“My style has developed. I think we develop by doing the work and this new work has the most depth and is the most painterly,” he said.

Mr. Yates sees his work as “realistically evocative,” based on his belief that a scene cannot be replicated on a canvas as the artists sees it but ought to be realistic and capable of communicating the feelings and echoes he experienced while painting it.

“Hopefully, the viewer can share that emotion or bring up thoughts and feelings of his or her own,” he said.

“I’m drawn to the plein form, painting in the field, I can never make a painting as beautiful as what I see. I’m trying to relay what I see and hopefully they will see it as well. If I hit it, get it right, it works,” he said, adding, “Of course, they don’t all work.”

One example of Mr. Yates simple, evocative style is a painting of a red workman’s shirt hanging on a door, that caught this reporter’s eye.

“The red shirt? It was hanging in my studio for a week or two. I try to paint every day, and on that day, I saw that shirt. I’d say it’s more of a study, an exercise.

“Why are we attracted to a shirt? Well, it looks enough like a shirt and enough like a painting. Strong color, simple composition.

“Sometimes I think the best paintings are simple — concise, no extra junk on them. Restrained but strong. For example, if anything inspired the red shirt, it would be Van Gogh’s painting of workboots I saw at a Van Gogh exhibit in L.A. Among all these amazing landscapes and scenes were images of a man’s workboots.

“I try to make paintings that are honest and direct so that every time you see it, you see something new or you’re reminded of something that was not even in the purpose of the work.”

The Yates Gallery plans to be open on holiday weekends until year-end and appointments can be made by calling Mr. Yates at 401-261-0851 or contacting him at