Yerf was founded in 1996 and was the most prominent furry art site along with the VCL for about ten years before being abandoned due to repeated technical issues and the availability of more modern sites such as Furaffinity. The site's stated goal was to host only the most skilled furry artists and only general audience artwork in order to offer a somewhat professional image of furry art.
In hindsight that was a pretty naive and pretty hypocritical goal, but as the saying goes it looked like a good idea at the time - those were in fact more naive times for the internet and the idea that a single art gallery could serve as a beacon of professionalism for a fandom did seem to make sense. Anyway Yerf actually managed to create a nice social environment for young furry artists who didn't want to be associated with the adult stuff, and there are interesting things to be found in its archives. I have a more complete mirror which contains many images missing from the online archive and I'll be picking image from there too.
I'll start from the artwork of Ailah (aka Platina), the artist who always comes first to my mind when I think of Yerf even though her art is not very representative of what was found on the site.
My favorite works by Ailah are dated about 2002-2003, at the peak of the relatively short lived but influential were community. Few traces of that community are left nowadays even though the most popular artists it fostered such as Goldenwolf and Kyoht still have a loyal following and have set the golden standard for all the following werewolf art. (Actually "skin-changer art" would be a more correct assessment of their place relative to prior art... but that's a topic for another time.)
Ailah's works were indeed exceptional by the standards of the furry community of the time. The blending of human and canine traits in this image is so inspired it still gives me the chills after so many years. The pose is distinctively feral, the canine way of expressing attention with gaze, ears and tail frozen in time like only a person deeply in love with wolves could do. Most were artists used to exaggerate the size and shape of prehensile paws to the point of caricature, but here they are fairly believable. The fur's texture is made more prominent where it most contributes to define a lupine silhouette: neck, shoulders, back and tail. You can tell that the artist would love to meet this creature in real life and have him pose for her. The corny background ruins the effect a bit, which is probably why the artist pulled this drawing from all online archives, but it is also a feat of sincerity since Native American clichés inspired the were community quite a lot.
Here the pose is still feral and similar to that of a resting wolf, but the simplicity of the picture, the lighting, the entranced expression and the prominent blind eye embed the portrait with a solemnity similar to that of a sphinx. The disheveled hair only adds to both the liveliness and mysterious vibe. The forepaws are slim and graceful, hinting at intellect and possibly tension between the human and the animal natures of the werewolf. Here is a wise creature who may give good advice.
While the landscapes in these works may appear somewhat stereotypical they always struck me as full of love and restrained passion. It's probably the combination of muted colors and simple but effective compositions.
Another iconic image, closer to typical fantasy this time, but rest assured you won't find anything like this in current mainstream stuff except for comedy effect. It's simply a rogue wolf with her horse. There's no need to say much more than this really: no person with a functional imagination can remain indifferent in front of such a cue.
These last two images are revealing of Ailah's taste for less-than-obvious details. With such a start it's not surprising that she went on to become a professional illustrator. Her main style has evolved away from furry realism and towards a more mainstream cartoony approach, but it's still full of personality and she still pays uncommon attention to the characteristic visual features of each species. And her love for werewolves still surfaces with all the passion and charm of the early days when given the chance.
Ailah's art at the Yerf Archive