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