Originally from Missouri, Joseph Yoakum had Cherokee and African American roots and was a believer in Christian Science. The key to the work of this landscape artist is travel: he claimed to have visited every continent except Antarctica. During his early years, Yoakum worked as a sailor, porter and circus performer, enabling him to travel the world before settling in Chicago in the 1950s. He began to create art in his seventies after dreaming that God instructed him to draw. Yoakum said he had visited every locale he drew, and often had a story to accompany his pictures. He carefully wrote captions on his works, identifying each view. His drawings often resemble geological studies or biological cross-sections rather than conventional illustrations of the landscape. Working in pens, pencils and watercolours, his palette included pastel shades of blues, greens and yellows. He finished his drawings by rubbing them with toilet paper, giving them an added sheen. The fluidity of his lines gave the rocks, clouds, oceans and mountains a mysterious, dreamlike quality. Yoakum’s success as an artist was assisted by the patronage of Whitney Halstead of the Art Institute of Chicago, and he influenced a number of local artists in the Chicago Imagists group.
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