Field Guide to Yawnder

The Field Guide to Yawnder was created by Dart and published by the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in 2016 to accompany his first public gallery solo exhibition, Greetings From Yawnder! This exhibition brought together 80+ drawings and installation pieces from the Yawnder series. The exhibition opened at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in October 2016 before travelling to the Art Gallery of Sudbury in February 2017. 

40 pages, 5.5″ x 8.5″, softcover, full colour, 2016.
Featuring 28 drawings, 3-panel map of Yawnder, and an essay by Sonya Jones, curator at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery.
Preview all the artwork here.

Available for purchase below or at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery and the Art Gallery of Ontario.


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Dart’s artistic odyssey is told through both mark making and world making. In his mark making he seeks purity of thought and expression, and in his world making he is relating his, and most likely other artists’, creative journey. Making sense of the complexities of Dart’s world can be challenging, but each drawing recounts a different layer of story, inviting the viewer to be a part of Jiggs’ journey.

Essay by Sonya Jones, curator at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery

Jay Dart’s Artistic Odyssey

“Take time to mess around. Get Lost. Wander. You never know where it’s going to lead you.” – Austin Kleon, Steal Like An Artist

Where do ideas come from? How do artists come up with original ideas? What is the impact of the internet on contemporary artists and the creative process? In Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From, he writes extensively about how ideas are not a single thing but a network of thoughts, influences and inspirations. Some ideas linger for years, needing time to incubate. This is the case with Durham Region artist Jay Dart, whose network of inspiration and influences is represented in a world he has created to comment on where artistic and innovative ideas come from, which he does as both a drawist (as he describes himself) and a storyteller. Inspiration can be found anywhere, and artists are often influenced by other artists. Jay Dart’s influences range from children’s books, music, movies and blogs, to other contemporary artists such as Cy Twombly, Robyn O’Neil, Marcel Dzama, Souther Salazar, Kent Monkman to historical Canadian artists like Cornelius Krieghoff and Tom Thomson. He surrounds himself with items, images, and things that fuel his creativity: his studio is decorated with historical logging and explorer photographs, children’s drawings, post-it notes with his own doodles, and notes to himself. When speaking to Dart, his responses come slowly, deliberately—one gets the distinct impression that he is often in his head, deep in thought, thinking from all angles—betraying his boundless imagination. While commuting from Port Perry to Toronto for a number of years, Dart had a lot of time to let his mind wander. He credits these years as a commuter to the creation of his artistic worlds: Yawnder and Elsewheres. In 2012, he self-published a limited edition book entitled Wanderer of Yawnder to tell the story of his journey as an artist and creator. 

The story begins in Elsewheres. Rather than have himself wander this world, Dart created an alter ego named Jiggs, who is on a journey for inspiration. Jiggs soon discovers Yawnder, which to Dart is where one goes mentally to find ideas—it’s a blank landscape with potential discoveries in every layer. This world is Dart’s way of representing his creative process: “Each drawing that I produce in this series adds to an evolving narrative about the mystical nature of inspiration, the search for innovative creation, and the dissemination of ideas.” The characters and themes are allegories of his artistic journey. The storytelling approach to Dart’s drawing engages the viewer in a narrative labyrinth, and takes them on a journey with no end or destination in sight. When looking at Dart’s work, the landscape is expansive and flat, with no sense of boundaries, other than faint horizon lines and the edges of the page. The sparsity of his drawings makes the viewer feel they can mentally add details of their own to fill in the gaps. Participation of the viewer is important to Dart, as he hopes to connect with both adults and children. In the participatory elements of his exhibition Greetings from Yawnder!, he asks the viewer to share their own inspirations on the mural, What Comes to Mind? and contribute pages to the story in What Else Happened?.

Like other world makers before him, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, and L. Frank Baum, Dart has created many layers and details that bring his world to life. In this field guide, he includes a map of the various regions within Yawnder,  a glossary of terms, character descriptions, and sketches of curios and discoveries like an explorer might make in a notebook. . With his chosen dialect of English, language plays an important role in both the titles of his drawings and the accompanying texts in his storybook and field guide. While he is the architect of these worlds, the story is Dart’s way to communicate his personal experiences and observations as a contemporary artist. The characters and allegories in Dart’s ongoing narrative play central roles in representing the challenges and opportunities artists experience in the face of rapidly changing technology and connectivity, such as grappling with cloud computing, social networking, and web commerce.  For example:

  • Referrers:  the “fellers” who drive the hot air balloons, in works such as The Main Stream, characterize online bloggers and their far-reaching powers to share and comment on ideas. 
  • Foredads: are quite literally floating heads with large beards that resemble clouds. They connote the idea of heads stuck in the clouds, dreaming and searching for ideas, but also allude to cloud-based technology and computing. To Dart, they represent the past generation of creators, and how the internet holds many thoughts and ideas in its storage: “They inhale fresh ideas and whisper them back out for others to catch in the winds.” 
  • Foremoms: play a central role in the second and third part of Jiggs’ journey, as the gatekeepers to the Unknowns. In Before Ye Know It, the sheer size of the characters illustrates their importance and prominence in this journey, seeming to hold the power to access a greater, uncharted world beyond Yawnder.   

While Dart is commenting on the challenges faced as a contemporary artist, his subjects and content are historical in nature and style. Dart’s work does not reflect modern life or technologies; instead we see loggers, hot air balloons, wooden ladders, log cabins and a city made entirely of barns and silos. There is an idealized Canadiana style to his subjects, not unlike works by historical Canadian artist Cornelius Krieghoff. As Dart says, “what I’ve been doing with my Wanderer series is not unlike what those painters were doing as well….[they] went out into the wilderness and presented it unlike anyone before….” His bearded lumberjack-like characters transport us not back in time, at least not one that has ever existed, but to another world entirely. 

Throughout Jiggs’ journey he encounters characters and makes discoveries along the way. The discovery that changed the course of Jiggs’ life was seeing the Yawnder Lights on the horizon,that appear in works such as The Uploaders and Cloudsourcing, while wandering near his cabin in Elsewheres. When he ventures over Yawnder, he discovers how the Foredads yawn to produce rainbow coloured geists from their mouths. The term geists can be translated as spirits or ideas; for Dart they are the spirit of ideas—inspirations. In the story, Jiggs decides to catch these geists by building a tall ladder and climbing to the top—he then fishes for the geists and catches one. He attaches the colourful geist to his face and it becomes what he calls a Magical Mystery Beard. The installation Magical Mystery Beard Collection shows Jiggs’ special collection with each jar labeled, identifying general subjects such as writing, art, agility, invention and love. The wearer of the beard gains gifts that help them excel in those areas. Word gets out about the Yawnder Lights and soon others start fishing and catching geists. The following part of the narrative explains that rather than holding on to ideas and doing nothing with them, the idea needs to be planted to create something new:

“Then I buried some geists in the ground, under the earths where they couldn’t be found, and planted m’sticks in order to know, would it possibly help em’ to grow. Eventually a magical mystery tree farm grew, and I had created something entirely new.”

Dart’s personal inspirations shine through in a myriad of ways throughout his fictional tale. For example, in his ongoing series of Twig Library works, twigs are labeled and identified as specific influences of Dart’s such as Sendak’s Wild Things, and Kubrick’s Strangelove. On Jiggs’ farm, he plants his geists in the ground along with a branch and cultivates them until they are fully grown—the twigs, branches and trunks sprouting as the framework for a greater idea. In Wanderer of Yawnder, it ends with a realization by Jiggs:

“I began t’understand it’s not about what ye take, but how ye grow and what ye make. And where m’geists go and what they do is left up to the winds and who knows who.”

The discoveries and realizations that Jiggs experiences are not unlike lessons and insights artists have when taking risks with their own art. The second book in Dart’s wanderer series, Further Over Yawnder, will soon be published as a limited artist edition. It follows Jiggs’ journey as a Geistwood (magical mystery trees) farmer, his attempts to take his creations beyond Elsewheres and his discovery of Beyawnder, a place “unconstrained by the page or by gravity.” Many of these new drawings are included in the exhibition, like As the Mists Begins to Lift. This work, which references the historical painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich, gives a bird’s eye view of the landscape of Elsewheres and Yawnder, as well as the characters who reside there: Jiggs overlooks his tree farm, loggers are transporting a stack of trees, deliverers are dragging a timber to a Foremom, a referrer’s hot air balloon floats above, and a fisher uses a ladder to procure their own geists from the sky. As new characters and new obstacles present themselves, Dart’s narrative expands while his artistic practice also flourishes. Additionally, as Dart’s world grows, so too does the physical size of his artwork.

The work Now Entering Beyawnder shows Jiggs going through a port (a doorway shortcut from Yawnder to Beyawnder). This is where Dart explores “bridging the divide between real world and imagination.” Largely influenced by his experience as a father, Dart particularly enjoys his children’s doodles and drawings as they capture what he truly seeks: “a purity of expression unbound by the trials of life and outside of subjective perceptions.”  His youngest child’s first doodles have found their way into his artwork, as seen in Now Entering Beyawnder, as well as in the field guide where he refers to them as glyphs. Like Beyawnder itself, his children’s scribbles are not confined or bound. While children are developing their fine motor skills, their lines and shapes are free and pure, the edges of the paper unrestricted. Dart was immediately drawn to his child’s scribbles because:

“…it’s all about finding inspiration and creating something unique unto oneself. And in order to do that, you need to connect with what you can do that no one else can; something unbound by anything and outside of anywhere. Although most toddler drawings look similar, they do represent that special time in life when there is just pure mark-making…. It then takes years and years to establish a style and a way of expressing that one can call their own – that’s the other end of the spectrum. If we’re lucky, our work will retain that childlike quality.”

The doodles are colourful, like the geists over Yawnder, but while geists are inspirations— the spirit of ideas—the loose and free scribbles (or glyphs) refer to the expression of ideas, possibly ones that are not fully formed. Dart explains, “It’s the drawing of the lines, unbound by gravity or anything else that is important. It’s about taking a line for a ride, seeing where it goes, and having fun.”  This is not unlike the work of Cy Twombly who said, “my line is childlike but not childish. It is very difficult to fake…to get that quality you need to project yourself into the child’s line. It has to be felt.”  In works such as See Fer Yerself, amongst the scribbles in the sky are the floating heads of fellow wanderers or fellers. When they lose their heads they are connecting with the energy of the scribbles; the purity of the idea is “blowing their minds”. Later in Jiggs’ exploration of Beyawnder the doodles transform to become more cloudlike—they have disseminated and will eventually disperse into the air. In Fathoms (seen on page 41), feller spectators have gathered around a formation that appears to be plummeting down to earth, like a meteorite. There is a sense of spectacle, the idea having a huge impact. While in Sure Sign, the shape floats gently above, coming in for a soft landing, epitomizing the different ways ideas can be expressed. In Dart’s latest works depicting Beyawnder, we see both doodles and cloudlike shapes filling the expansive sky, with fellers floating freely on them, poking and prodding. When asked what Jiggs does with the doodles, Dart said he was not sure yet. Once again, the telling of the story is parallel to its creation—Jiggs and Dart are one in the same, learning and discovering as they go.

Dart’s artistic odyssey is told through both mark making and world making. In his mark making he seeks purity of thought and expression, and in his world making he is relating his, and most likely other artists’, creative journey. Making sense of the complexities of Dart’s world can be challenging, but each drawing recounts a different layer of story, inviting the viewer to be a part of Jiggs’ journey. In the exhibition Greetings From Yawnder!, alongside the drawings, character portraits, field guide and world map are the installations of colourful geist tree logs, jugs with Magical Mystery Beards, twig libraries, and other souvenirs found in Yawnder—bringing Dart’s world beyond the pages and into our reality. Dart invites visitors to directly participate in the creation and dissemination of ideas, contributing to both the story and the creative process. As an artist, Dart ingests external influences, and new ideas take shape. The world he has created allows him to communicate his own challenges and exploits as a visual artist, as well as connect with the universal experiences of all creators.  He wants the viewer to consider their own creative process and where their ideas might take them. As Dart says, “…all of our influences and the things we admire come together in our creations. Ideally they come together in a new way that connect us to others…and to that toddler scribbling away in all of us.”