Joseph Yoakum was born in 1890 in the Navajo reservation near Window Rock, Arizona. A self-taught artist, Yoakum lived a fairly nomadic lifestyle until well into his 60s, when he had a dream, as a message from God that he should begin to draw.
For the last 10 years of his life, Yoakum worked quickly and passionately, mainly producing landscapes drawn from his past. These were inspired from his childhood days travelling with the circus and years working on railroads. He eventually settled in Chicago where he died in 1972 having gained recognition as a unique and original interpreter of landscape Outsider art.
Yoakum's drawings are the only records of a life spent on the road and the only evidence that can vaguely point to where, when and what he visited during his lifetime.
His dual Native and Afro-American roots were always at the core of his work. His landscapes have a linear, dream-like quality changed subtly by an emphasis on colour, which in turn affects the mood of the drawing.
His landscapes are said to resemble the old railroad picture postcards of the 1930s, taking on the same form of a horizontal composition with inscriptions at the top of the page. Various animals encountered on his circus route can also be seen in his landscapes, often referred to as Animist.
It was not until 1967, that Yoakum was discovered by the mainstream. Before his death in 1972, Yoakum had several solo exhibitions and took part in various Outsider Art group shows along with other Native American artists.
His work is included in permanent collections at the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of American Folk Art, New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art among others.