Mikey Yates, Chess with Dad (Mt. Rainier), 2021, courtesy of the artist and Taymour Grahne Projects
Filipino American painter Mikey Yates is an emerging talent whose practice reflects on the “stories places tell about people and the stories people tell about places,” as he puts it. It’s a direct response to his own childhood, moving from place to place with his family, as both his parents served time in the military.
In Yates’s latest series, Love Letters, which is going on show at Taymour Grahne Projects in London this month, we see intimate paintings that serve as love letters to his family and friends, capturing those transient moments of togetherness in a pandemic characterised by separation and loss. There’s a tenderness to his portrayals of gentle domestic scenes – a clear understanding that these are people that Yates cares deeply about. And the feeling is mutual, as his subjects’ direct gaze is full of love and familiar warmth.
Mikey Yates, Coffee and Cassava Cake with Mom in Texas, 2021, courtesy of the artist and Taymour Grahne
Each artwork features an interior scene that explores the imprints we leave on the places we inhabit and vice versa. They’re also each based on a different US state or country to reflect Yates’s upbringing in a military family. Together, they form a patchwork of multiple cultural influences, a rich tapestry of life, with various objects giving a hint of a household and what happens there. In Coffee and Cassava Cake with Mom in Texas, Yates depicts his mother in her sitting room just before moving to another place for the military. Setting the room with the same coffee table, floral-patterned chair, and grandfather clock wherever she travels, these objects harbour the idea of “normal”, soon to be upended.
No matter how you view Yates’s snapshots of loved ones in everyday situations, it’s clear these captured moments of tenderness – soft and peaceful – contrast massively to the hard exterior often associated with life in the military. One could say it’s a visual diary of his experiences, many of which are fleeting.
But one stands out as more permanent: his artwork titled Christmas in California, Auntie Nen’s Apartment captures the buzz of family in an LA apartment but it feels more solid than other paintings in the series – the place, in fact, remained the only constant throughout his entire nomadic life. Alternatively, serene portraits as Olyvia & Zu, North Kansas City contrasts cool interior tones with bright exteriors, visible through the window, as the artist captures his wife in a moment of respite from unpacking in their new home.
Mikey Yates, Olyvia and Zu (Kansas City), 2021, courtesy of the artist and Taymour Grahne Projects
Mikey Yates, Billy Journaling in Batangas, 2021, courtesy of the artist and Taymour Grahne Projects
Yes, these are mementoes of intimate moments, but Yates’s works also gesture towards the powerful relationship between people and place. Born in Germany in 1992, Mikey Yates moved from place to place with his family of six. He has a BFA from Missouri State University and has recently completed an MFA at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He now lives and works in Kansas City, USA.
Mikey Yates, Christmas in California (Auntie Nen’s Apartment), 2021, courtesy of the artist and Taymour Grahne
Mikey Yates, Jeremiah at No Name Bar, 2021, courtesy of the artist and Taymour Grahne Projects