sAll yur shows me his heart. He’s always wanted to make a statue using a car (“They’re totally my penis, right?”) and throughout the pandemic, like many of us, he’s been thinking about death. So when he found a core, he removed all the paint and turned it into a mosaic. In true Yore style, the car now has “FUCK ME DEAD” written in tiny micro-tiles on the trunk, above a number plate that reads NO HOMO.
How does one only buy cabbage? “I just found it on the Internet,” he says sweetly. He finished it in just three weeks. I ask to see his hands, expecting to see them disfigured from years of carving and embroidery, but all I see is neat nail polish and some surprisingly natural looking figures. “They’re not bad now,” he says. “After big installs, I usually end up looking like I’m working with feral cats.”
At just 34 years old, Yore’s art became instantly recognizable through stunning and colorful vulgarity, as it tackles sex, sexuality, politics, religion, capitalism and advertising. His latest – and biggest – exhibition ever: a carnival survey has just opened at the Australian Center for Contemporary Art (ACCA) in Melbourne.
Probably best known for his massive structures built from leftovers, this gallery includes his largest exhibition yet: a tower and dome covered in a mix of Happy Meal toys, imitation jewelry, Nana boxes, neon lights, fast food signs, dildos, and hummus. Chicken Nights Boxes and Tools. (“This is a horrific subcategory,” he once said, while looking sadly at a row of penis straws.)
Elsewhere on the show, his needlepoint needlepoint conveys vulgar, rhetorical messages about capitalism and colonialism in vibrant shades of a rainbow. His oversized quilt is emblazoned with queer, anti-gay, racist and anti-racist slogans, with sequins, beads, and a bit of an erection. “You’re going to stare in amazement at one of these for a while,” an ACCA worker told me, pointing to one of Yore’s most gorgeous fabrics, and all of a sudden you realized you’d been looking at a penis for a long time.
The mind behind it all is a slim and elegant man who exudes calm, who, as he shows me around, reveals glimpses of a pearl necklace under his black shirt. The show features more than 100 of his works, many of which were reunited years later in galleries across Australia. Some have not seen him in over a decade. “It feels like a weird family reunion, seeing old works,” he says. “They’re like little kids back in my life.”
While his art is quite entertaining on the surface, Yor considers him and himself a pessimist. “My work comes from a very dark and cynical place. I don’t find it interesting,” he says. “It’s made of plastic and it won’t degrade for a million years and it’s disgusting.”
He thinks part of the attraction is that darkness. “We live in really turbulent times and a lot of people feel it,” he says. “But as an eccentric who gets assaulted or named after on the street, I think the value of marginal votes is that we’ve learned ways to survive. The quilt, for example, one of the models I use frequently, is on some level about safety and comfort.” .
Born in Melbourne, Yure was raised by his English father, a former Franciscan monk, and an Australian mother, a missionary from Gippsland. Growing up in a very religious household was difficult for an eccentric boy; His “hellish” years in Catholic school were riddled with bullying. “But there is so much in Catholic art that it is very campy,” he says. “The period of art that I really like, the Baroque art of the 17th century, is high drama, it’s sensual, it’s very Hollywood. Some of it is almost erotic. So there’s a lot of overlap between religion and eccentricity, in terms of ornament and scenery.”
At the university he studied archeology and anthropology, which explains and feeds his drive to collect magpies – or, as he calls it, “rescue.” It collects remnants of capitalism from operations stores and online marketplaces. When he begins to create his art, he “improvises.”
“I don’t know what it will look like before it’s complete,” he says. Instead, his hands are sensing. “Even kids understand it, when they make a collage — you take one thing and put it next to something else, and it’s silly and funny when they don’t fit together.”
As for his intricate textiles, Yuer took over the needle after suffering a mental health breakdown in 2010, which had its roots, he said, in exhaustion. During that time, he’s been working, studying, creating, clubbing—and doing a lot of all fours. He was divided against his will for two weeks at a psychiatric hospital in York, England, during a family vacation. Then, while resting and weaning himself off his medication, he taught himself sewing – a craft with a long political history, embraced by unionists and unionists holding banners for their protests.
“A lot of my artwork takes a strong position…that’s fine for me, political art is a great tradition. But art in and of itself is not necessarily a protest or an activism,” he says. What it does is suggest questions that allow us to think radically. For example, after being here today, you might never look at horrible penis straws the same way again.”
His mixture of obscenity and vulgarity can be annoying. In 2013, he was accused of producing and possessing child pornography, after police raided a St Kilda gallery which was displaying one of his posters that featured children’s faces superimposed on the bodies of men performing sexual acts. The charges were dropped. The judge reprimanded Victoria Police for harming Eur’s art and ordered them to pay his legal fees.
Is this experience burdensome? “The older I get, the more I realize that there is tension in what society expects from art and what I am making as an artist like myself,” he says slowly. “It affected me at the time. But it was over a decade ago, so I don’t think about it much anymore.”
These days, he enjoys being seen as a populist: Most people can enjoy the Hungry Jacks neon sign that says Horny Jocks, and they don’t have to think about the deeper meaning behind it all. “People really have a relationship with my material, which immediately reduces the tension that sometimes occurs in contemporary art, where someone is like, ‘Oh, is this for me?’ Do I understand what is happening here? Instead, it’s ‘Oh, I used to have that game,’ ‘I know that mantra.’ It’s real life stuff.”