Peter Yokum:
French Quarter Artist

“I Don't Get Out and Sell Yokum”

By Henry H. Mitchell and Patricia B. Mitchell, March 1975.

Peter Yokum

“I paint for myself.”

Peterson Moon Yokum, a twenty-six-year-old artist, has his studio at his home “Casa Hove” on Toulouse Street. Peter works in oils, watercolors, pastels, conté crayon, and charcoals. His studio is open by appointment.

Community Standard: Were you interested in becoming an artist when you were a child?

Yokum: I never had any interest in it until much later. It was after a year of college and a year of working various jobs offshore that I began to become aware of a certain desire to point.

Community Standard: Do you believe that some people are “born” artists or can the talent be developed?

Yokum: Anybody can do it — not everybody can do it well. I don't believe that it is necessarily something you were born to do.

Community Standard: Please describe your artistic style.

Yokum: Basically, I deal with light on form in space. It is representational, but it is not realism. It even tends more toward mannerism.…Your best description of it would be “Yokumesque.”

Community Standard: What are your subjects?

Yokum: Faces, nudes, landscapes, still lifes, anything that's pretty, anything that moves me, anything that I feel is worth capturing.

Community Standard: Do you have a favorite subject?

Yokum: What I do the most is portraits. I love faces. My painting of the person reflects my feeling toward his personality.

Community Standard: On your desk is a book entitled Atlas of Descriptive Human Anatomy, and your portraits and life studies indicate that you have studied bone and muscle structures. Is that correct?

Yokum: Yes. This is a three-part series for the first-yeard med student.…One of the things I most desire is a real human skeleton, complete. Theya re $500 to $600, which is a bit rich for my blood at this point.

Community Standard: Have you worked on Jackson Square?

Yokum: I worked on the Square for about five months. I didn't find that it suited me at all.

Community Standard: You didn't like having the tourists hanging around?

Yokum: No, the tourists were exactly what I went out there for. It was rather a lean period for me.

Community Standard: You wanted to hear their reaction to your work?

Yokum: No, not at all. I went out there to get their remuneration for my work, not their opinion.

Community Standard: Did you find working on the Square degrading?

Yokum: Certainly not. It's a very nice atmosphere, it you can put up with the pigeon feces.

Community Standard: Seriously, a lot of people like you have been able to get a foothold there. Don't you think that the Square has been beneficial?

Yokum: I think it certainly has been for many people, but it's a very shallow art scene. It's extremely commercial and it's not very creative. I think for a tremendous middle segment of America it has given New Orleans a rather false reputation as an art center.

Peter Yokum

“A feeling…for beautiful things.”

Community Standard: You formulate your own oil paints. Why is this?

Yokum: This is something that I have to go through to get the desired result. Commercial oil paints are just trash — inferior. My medium allows me to glaze and to have transparencies. It will keep my paint as rich as when I lay it on the first day. Once you become appreciative of the difference you'd never want to see another kind of oil paint.

Community Standard: Where did you get the “recipe” for this kind of oil paint?

Yokum: It was taught to me by my instructor, Frank Mason, at the New York City Art Students League. He calls it the Maroger medium. A man named Jacques Maroger, who was the curator of the Louvre, began by experimenting with taking very microscopic samplings of Renaissance paintings. You see, this formula died with the Renaissance. Originally, the Greeks had this medium that Jan Van Eyck redicsovered and gave to the Italians and that created the whole Italian Renaissance. There are manuscripts that speak of the Greeks and their oil painting and how they had a gel that was “colorless, like water.” I use cold-pressed lineseed oil, mastic crystals, and white lead. I've studied the alchemists' approach to the chemical balance in the pigments, and the hydrophobic medium that I produced makes it impervious to gases, to water. It will never yellow because I've force-aged this medium.

Community Standard: How do you sell your paintings, since you don't exhibit in a gallery? Do you have private shows?

Yokum: I've never had a show. I'd have to have a backlog of paintings and, as it is, I do the portrait and they take it home. People come to me by word of mouth. I don't get out and sell Yokum.

Community Standard: Why do you paint?

Yokum: Mainly, the reaon I paint is for myself. I paint for me first. I have no message for the world. This is something that I do for myself because I love it. I really do love it.

Community Standard: Are you try to “express yourself”?

Yokum: I resent the fact that art has to be self-expressive. You could be doing it for an infinite number of reasons and still have it be valid and beautiful, and still have a sensitive rendition of what you consider to be art. I would not say that there's some burning drive within me to express myself. It's more a feeling that I have for beautiful things.

Community Standard: Do you consider your work a craft or an art?

Yokum: Oh, my God! There's a tremendous amount of craft behind what you see, but it is first an art.

Control and color, these things are the craft end of it, but the craft is only a technical vehicle for your feelings. My very most precious wish is to have a spontaneous, beautifully-rendered image of what I feel.

Community Standard: Are there many good artists in New Orleans?

Yokum: In my opinion there are very few.

Community Standard: Do you want to name any of the ones you admire — your “favorite local artists,” so to speak?

Yokum: I think George Dureau is very competent and actually very creative in his off-beat subject matter. Good drawing. Good draftsmanship. Noel Rockmore, Bruce Brice — these people are all very competent at what they do.

Community Standard: You lived in New York awhile. Do you plan to remain in New Orleans?

Yokum: I will always use this as a home base. I really feel that the only way you can truly appreciate New Orleans is to leave it and try something else. Nine out of ten, you'll come back as fast as you can.

Community Standard: What are your artistic aspirations?

Yokum: I really feel that there's no end to what I can do — there's no limitation actually, outside of the fact that I only have two hands and two eyes.

Community Standard: You wouldn't mind become famous and making a lot of money, right?

Yokum: Certainly not. Certianly not.

Community Standard: You wouldn't mind having your paintings hang in museums later on, would you?

Yokum: Oh, I'm sure they will.