Jan with paintings in his studio at 96 5th avenue

Yoors’s work in painting carries the simplicity of form present in his sculptures and charcoals and the brilliant colors of his tapestries and gouaches. Although Yoors painted as a boy, he began producing figurative paintings while in New York between 1954 and 1962. A trip to Mexico, accompanied by his good friend Roger Lescot (1915-1975), initially inspired him to return to the easel. Lescot, a French diplomat, was also a successful translator of Kurdish and Persian literature into French. He spent twenty-five years living in Kurdistan where he attained fluency in Kurdish. Lescot and Yoors regularly corresponded through letters and meetings in New York, oftentimes attending events at the United Nations. In 1956, a friend of Lescot’s, Victor Alba, a writer who moved in Surrealist literary circles, briefly ran a gallery, Gallerias Excelsior, in Mexico City (1956) where he exhibited several of Yoors’s paintings and tapestries.

Yoors’s paintings may feature bright colors, such as yellows, pinks, and oranges associated with Mexico, and these colors also appear in his tapestries. However, Yoors’s paintings differ most from his other work for the way most of these compositions feature a single dark-skinned woman against a colorful background. The women bare similarities to those described in Yoors’s writings on Amazonas, which he wrote while from his hotel room in Manaus while traveling on assignment to take pictures of post-war religious and secular architecture for the architect Edward Sovik. He described the women he saw in Manaus as having,

“Lean bodies in short light colored revealing shifts, the well-rounded buttocks, the effervescent unsparing jungle, the generous breast, the inviting thighs eager for fulfillment. Weltschmerz and angst sublimated into dreams of sexual prowess … the over attraction of femininity equal only to that of the strange jungle flower.”

These reflections may have appeared after Yoors ceased making these paintings, however the Amazonas women have parallels to the Gypsy girls in his tapestries and paintings. Yoors’s account of the Amazonas provides a raw and poetic account of his experiences traveling in South America.

Additionally, these paintings, due to the relative similarity of their expressions, bodies, and sheath-like dresses, could almost be characterized as studies for his work in tapestry, notably the compositions such as in “Gypsies Around a Samovar” (1957) As with the works shown here, the same objects, such as the samovar and tea glasses, or the necklaces and golden jewelry the women wear, appear repeatedly, as Yoors indeed owned these objects and could refer to them as props. He also experienced and used these exotic objects while living with the Rom. In the opening pages of his memoir The Gypsies, Yoors described how
“Around the campfire sat women draped in deep-colored dresses, their big expressive eyes and strong white teeth standing out against their beautiful dark matte skin. … Their shiny black hair was long and braided, the skirts of their dresses were ankle-length … my first impression of them was one of health and vitality.”

As with Yoors’s tapestries, thick black lines describe the subjects of his paintings bathed in vibrant hues. His use of bold color may also arise from his knowledge of Goethe’s color theories, which he learned as a boy. In his writings, Yoors described how

“[w]ith my father I would speak almost exclusively about art and other related cultural subjects. Gradually my father would try to inculcate me with his own classicism, ideal canon of beauty of the ancient Greeks and Da Vinci’s quest for the Golden Rule and Goethe’s color theories.”

The flat yet curvaceous figures Yoors painted display his talent for forming his figures into sinuous and often provocative poses, as also appear in his sculptures.

Furthermore, the same curves also reflect Yoors’s interest with the female figure such as in his closely cropped series of charcoal drawings, providing further connections across his oeuvre. These paintings, like the tapestry, are flat compositions where the figures appear to float atop the background, such as in the painting of a curled woman in a golden dress (1959).

Biblical paintings at Jan’s studio in Belgium

Adding finishing touches to a painting

Doing a preliminary sketch with a live model

Jan painting in their 47th street