It’s not a secret that Robert Yarber has always been a psychonaut. His practice embraces deeper understandings of the human condition from his own altered state, be it achieved through meditation or entheogenic substances. The paintings from the 1980s for which he is best known depict levitating (or falling) figures alone or in pairs, reflecting artificial light from cityscapes like moons mirroring the sun. They’re contemplative, they’re freaky, but they’re a bit more cocaine and quaalude than full-blown head trip.
In 2005, Yarber boarded a boat for Iquitos, Peru, and met with a shaman for three Ayahuasca ceremonies over the course of two weeks. The decoction sent him messages, introduced him to energies and beings from other dimensions. He conversed with the cosmocreators, the magicians who constructed the universe, but also burlesque pranksters and bumbling idiots. “I saw the Virgin Mary, I saw Porky Pig,” he says. Through drawing, sketching, writing, and meditation, he attempted to decipher the meaning of it all, a blueprint for the collective consciousness, but most of all his own. He moved his studio to Kathmandu.
From his new home in Nepal, his Ayahuasca visions melded with the Hindu and Buddhist artworks, totems, and relics he saw in the temples and streets of his surrounding neighborhoods and became, for his practice, a cohesive whole. The high-contrast neons-on-black from his earlier work gave way to pastels on white cotton-rag paper—the better not to see the skin, but to see through it to the shamanic aliens, Gods and deities, sea captains, and massive (yet somehow effeminate) dongs that populate the universes within our bodies. These are The Ayahuasca Drawings.
Robert Yarber (b. 1948, Dallas, Texas) lives and works in central Pennsylvania. Since the 1970s, Robert Yarber has produced mind-bendingly psychedelic paintings, first gaining international acclaim when his work was included in “Paradise Lost/Paradise Regained: American Visions of the New Decade,” an exhibit organized by the New Museum for display in the American Pavilion at the 41st Venice Biennale in 1984. Yarber gained further prominence with his inclusion in the 1985 Whitney Biennial, and he is credited as a major influence for the art direction of Terry Gilliam’s 1998 film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Yarber has exhibited nationally and internationally since the early eighties. Recent solo exhibitions include Anamorphic! Sublime!, Galeria Nicodim, Bucharest (2019, solo); Return of the Repressed, Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles (2018, solo); Panic Pending, Reflex Amsterdam, Holland (2014, solo); Calaveras Gnosticos, Sonnabend Gallery, New York, NY (2009, solo); Sortie: The Demonological Survey, Kyungpook National University Art Museum, Daegu, Korea (2007, solo); and Robert Yarber, Sonnabend Gallery, New York, NY (1998, solo). His works can be found in the collections of Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The PaineWebber Art Collection, New York; The Broad Museum, Los Angeles; and The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, among others.