YNEZ JOHNSTON (b. 1920) "Indian Dance, 1950" Casein on paper, 13.75" x 21.5"
Ynez Johnston Biography
Painter/printmaker Ynez Johnston was born in 1920 in Berkeley, California. She studied drafting, painting and printmaking at the University of California with Worth Ryder, Erle Loran and Margaret Peterson. Johnston's work is characterized by "jigsaw" shapes reminiscent of primitive designs. Her unique style blends modernism and ancient art forms from her travels to Italy, Mexico, India and Nepal. She has also done 3-dimensional pieces in collaboration with her husband, poet and novelist John Berry, and with ceramic sculptor Adam Mekler.
Her watercolors, oils and etchings of the 1950s and 1960s were rich with complex imagery, and displayed a disciplined and somewhat restrained use of color.
The display of her paintings and etchings in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1951) was the launch of her career as a successful artist.
In later mixed-media pieces, she examined the tactile qualities of surface. The paintings involve the combination, and occasional lamination, of diverse material soil, acrylic, dyes, encaustic on cloth, canvas, and raw silk. The colors are vibrant and the images are composite forms suggesting ambiguous architectural, human, animal and plant shapes. Johnston cites Persian and Indian art as influences along with such artists as Matisse, Miro, Klee and Picasso.
She received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, first place in watercolor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1952, and Fresno Art Museum's Distinguished Artist Award in 1992. She exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Art, and at Mitsukoshi in Tokyo. Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City.
(Tobey C. Moss Gallery, West Hollywood) Ynez Johnston is an architect of fantastic realms. Though she may skirt reality, she never quite eradicates the concrete. She just disguises it. Her idiosyncratic vocabulary of forms derive from a collective cultural history. But references metamorphose into a unique fusion of elements that show no regard for the actual physical world.
Throughout her career, Johnston has experimented with a variety of mediums that include etchings, lithography, oils, watercolor, paper maché, ink dyes, sumi on rice paper and casein. Crucial to her inventive composites are the influences of Mogul and Tibetan artists, Pre-Columbian stone carvings, artists such as William Blake, and the obsessive proclivities of Persian paintings. The melding of sources suggest a line between cubism, European surrealism and the over-all qualities of American abstract expressionism. Her personal evocations of abstract geometry are particularly reminiscent of the fanciful linear styles of Paul Klee and Mark Tobey.
By combining mythic designs with the precepts of modernism, she evokes hybrids of universal forms and familiar landmarks. But they evolve strictly out of Johnson's fertile imagination. . . a synthesis of outer and inner visions. As though spilling out of an overcrowded subconscious, a multitude of geometric forms and shapes transmute into intricate designs. Palace of the Snow Leopard , for example, is dominated by a form that looks like a cross between animal and architecture. The stylized figure bears a conglomeration of colorful designs and symbols. It appears a strange hybrid of a Mayan stylized animal and a Chinese horse. It is pure contrivance.
A fifty-year survey reveals how Johnston's stylistic developments have gone through cycles and mutations. But the vitality of her colors remain prevalent, and certain forms and themes have a continuous life span. The repetition of mythic shapes, particularly a mandala-like form, strengthen the enduring psychological power of ancient myths.
Mythical urban landscapes also remain a constant throughout her oeuvre. In Arabia  her abstract depiction of crowded environs recall the surreal urban representations of Philip Guston. Through time, however, her evocative worlds become denser and more exotic. In Expedition  shapes resemble castles, temples, humans, animals and illusive symbols. I say "resemble" because this is a purely invented world. The use of black against vivid greens, golds and orange create a cohesive bond for the disparate images.
The Green Nile  is replete with familiar Johnston elements. Here again, dazzling colors activate the relationship between man, cities, nature and symbols. Whimsical violet pyramids and middle-eastern architecture suggest cities in the sand. A green diamond-shaped island is set off by a sea of vivid blue, and a bright golden ground provides emphasis for a Mayan-type design. Surrounding shapes, set within fields of orange, red and yellow, evoke a pulsating energy.
The influence of Tibetan tanka paintings and their penchant for borders is reflected in Sailing Around the Horn. Created with ink dyes on canvas and silk, fanciful depictions are set within borders of yellow, aqua and deep turquoise.
Sculptures also show a propensity for hybrids. In the 1992 bronze, The Wom an Who Waits by the Sea, Pre-Columbian and Asian influences appear prominently. A stylized woman stands upon a dog-like figure. Both are etched with a sundry amount of designs and figures.
Johnston's horror-vacuii style demands quite a bit of examination. But her amalgamation of images can extend the imagination of the spectator. Enigmatic forms rooted in ambiguous space give the illusion of dream metaphors. Juxtapositions that evoke associative meanings can transport viewers into their own fantasy universes.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Whitney Museum of American Art
Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
2015 Moure, Nancy Dustin. Publications in California Art No. 11, Index to California Art Exhibited at the Laguna Beach Art Association, 1918-1972
2005 AskART.com Inc. - Dunbier, Lonnie Pierson (Editor). The Artists Bluebook
2005 Davenport, Ray. Davenport's Art Reference: The Gold Edition
2004 McGowan, Alison C (Editor). Who's Who in American Art
2002 McClelland, Gordon T; Jay T. Last. California Watercolors 1850-1970
1999 Falk, Peter Hastings (Editor). Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975
1998 Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall. California Art: 450 Years of Painting & Other Media
1995 Heller, Jules and Nancy G. Heller. North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century
1993 Bowker R R. Who's Who in American Art-1993-1994 20th Edition
1990 Acton, David. A Spectrum of Innovation Color in American Printmaking 1890-1960
1989 Falk, Peter Hastings (Editor). Annual Exhibition Record, 1914-68, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Exhibition catalog)
1987 Cummings, Paul. Dictionary of Contemporary American Artists (5th Edition)
1986 Opitz, Glenn B (editor). Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers
1985 Albright, Thomas. Art in the San Francisco Bay Area 1945-1980/An Illustrated History
1985 Krantz, Les. American Artists: An Illustrated Survey of Leading Contemporary Americans
1985 McClelland, Gordon T; Jay Last. The California Style Watercolor Artists 1925-1955
1984 Orr-Cahill, Christina. The Art of California Selected Works / Oakland Museum
1983 Bermingham, Peter/Daphne Deeds. Paintings and Sculpture In the Permanent Collection
1983 Edgerton, Anne Carnegie. The California Connection 16 Paintings/Gifford Phillips Collection (Exhibition catalog)
1983 Gibson, Dunn & Critcher. A Century of California Landscapes
1982 Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Artists from Early Times to the Present
1981 Ball, Maudette. Southern California Artists 1940-1980 (Exhibition catalog)
1980 Feinblatt, Ebria/Bruce Davis. Los Angeles Prints 1883-1980 (Exhibition catalog)
1977 Barr, Alfred H. Painting and Sculpture in the Museum of Modern Art
1976 Jaques Cattell Press. Who's Who in American Art, 1976 12th Edition
1976 San Francisco Mus Modern Art. Painting & Sculpture in California The Modern Era
1976 Weller, Allen S. Watercolor U S A National Invatational Exhibit (Exhibition catalog)
1974 Baur, John I H. Whitney Museum of American Art Catalogue of the Collection
1973 Collins, Jim L. Women Artists in America: Eighteenth Century to Present
1956 Long Beach Muni Art Center. California Painting 40 Painters
1956 Pousette-Dart, Nathaniel (ed). American Painting Today
Sources: AskART.com Tobey C. Moss, Tobey C. Moss Gallery, West Hollywood Les Krantz, American Artists, Illustrated Survey of Leading Contemporary Artists Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art http://www.masterworksfineart.com/inventory/johnston.htm http://artscenecal.com/ArticlesFile/Archive/Articles1998/Articles0698/YJohnstonA.html
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