San Quentin State Prison has a diverse population of artists who work in a variety of styles and mediums. Each edition of SQ News seeks to highlight the amazing creativity among us. Arthur L. Yeary is one such artist whose incredible talent shines brightly.
“When I was 13, I started learning how to draw by doodling,” said Yeary. “The fastest way to learn how to draw is with little quick pictures so that you can get a lot of repetitions.”
At age 63, Yeary has been incarcerated 24 years. Creating his own legacy through his art and unique style, he brings people and animals alive with figures so realistic they look like they’re about to pop right off the canvas. He is often found at the unit’s four-seater tables, sketching portraits for his peers or working on his latest masterpiece.
Yeary has been drawing for family and friends for decades, taking great pride in the authenticity of his creations.
“Back then I decided to do realism because I noticed reality looks better than anything that people can make up,” said Yeary.
He has mastered the ability to look at things and draw them. Now his objective is to be able to draw things realistically without looking at them. He is confident in his ability but believes that he can still improve and wants to continue building his skills.
When asked what benefit he gets from his art, Yeary’s eyes light up and he replies, “I can use my time for something better than just playing games or watching TV. This is positive; it keeps me from being depressed or negative.”
Coping with incarceration has not been easy for Yeary. Through his art, he discovered peace of mind that keeps him living in harmony behind bars, which is something that many other prisoners struggle with.
For Yeary, creativity is important in art, as is originality. He loves drawing animals because he feels challenged by their complexity, and he believes in their beauty. He spent over 40 hours creating a mandrill baboon, which is the largest species in the world. “I always thought that they were beautiful,” Yeary said.
As a fan of the famous TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he once completed a portrait of the series’ star, Sarah Michelle Gellar. He likes the way Buffy always saves the world and offers his compliments to the writers of the show.
Unlike other artists, Yeary has a personal set of rules and guidelines to live by. He refuses to draw any nude or pornographic figures. He considers himself a religious man and Christianity is part of his life.
During an interview, he proudly expressed his ability to have done several portraits of Jesus Christ in the past.
“Christian art is meaningful to me as well,” he said.
Yeary sometimes displays his projects during an open unit in West Block, exhibiting his art on the floor while he sits on a wooden bench nearby and watches hundreds of other prisoners walk by, admiring his work, which includes a detailed portrait of Tarzan.
Tarzan has its own share of fame at SQ. “Tarzan represents strength and vitality in the wild,” Yeary said.