Depth Perceptions

Painters Stephen Batura and Dave Yust are treated to separate solos.

I think Yust was successful in explicating his development as an artist. The work, which is arranged chronologically, leads the viewer from the early organic abstractions to the later geometric abstractions and, with the newest ones, back to the organic again. So although the word "circles" in the show's title refers, according to Yust, to the shapes themselves, it could also be used poetically to mean that he's come full circle in a pictorial sense.

Most of the paintings in the MOCA exhibit will be unfamiliar. Many have never been exhibited before, and others haven't been shown in decades. Right off the bat, there's something unexpected in the spectacular diamond-shaped panel "Yellow and Blue Fields," from 1966. The way the paint has been thickly applied is absolutely something, though Yust, who prefers thin applications, almost never did that again.

While the overall effect of the painting is organic, there are also geometric elements, in particular the division of the canvas into two blue and two yellow squares. True, the squares recede visually, as they are mostly painted over -- but they are still there. Thus the seeds for Yust's future forays into geometric abstraction were already being sown, even in the most organic of his early paintings.

"excursion," by Stephen Batura, casein and acrylic on 
"excursion," by Stephen Batura, casein and acrylic on panel.
"Yellow and Blue Fields," by Dave Yust, oil and mixed 
media on canvas.
"Yellow and Blue Fields," by Dave Yust, oil and mixed media on canvas.


middle ground: STEPHEN BATURA
Through January 18, Walnut Foundry, 3002 Walnut Street, 303-298-7554

Dave Yust: PAINTING IN CIRCLES and Other Abstract Works
Through January 3, Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art, 201 South College Avenue, Fort Collins, 1-970-482-2787

"I want to explore how geometry and biomorphism work together," Yust notes. "Some [pieces] are a little more biomorphic, some are a little more geometric. It's not something I think about doing consciously; I just do it subconsciously. I guess it's something that tastes good to me visually."

Another 1960s painting combining geometry and organic shapes is the wonderful "Yellow and Mustard Triangular Fields," in which the use of hard edges begins to play a more important role. This same balance of the geometric and the organic is employed in a pair of gorgeous matching compositions, "Red Field and Square" and "Violet Field and Square," which are hung side by side at MOCA.

In 1969, Yust began to do a series of paintings that were programmatic in that aspects of them were pre-determined -- something he'd actually been doing all along, but with less emphasis. He worked with variable elements, including matteness and shininess, versus constant ones, such as color values, and a few of those combinations are on display at MOCA. The programmatic paintings, which are hard-edged, are the kind that Yust is best known for. They really hit their mark and made Yust famous in the area at the time. Broadly speaking, though his programs would change and evolve over the years, Yust stayed interested in hard-edged abstraction into the early 1980s, and the idea of using pre-ordained programs has held his attention even longer -- right up to his latest paintings.

The galleries that include these abstractions knocked me out. The two majestic black-and-white paintings, "CC 66 CIS 50" and "CC 51 CIS 35," both from Yust's "Circular Composition" series, are heart-stopping, especially hanging together as they are here. Also beautiful -- and also part of the amazing "Circular Composition" group -- are the two that are mostly red with purple accents, "CC 26 CIS 11" and "CC 46 CIS 30."

From the 1980s to the present, Yust returned to abstractions that were mostly organic. His handling of color also changed, becoming more blended, with multi-tonal fields. (In the earlier hard-edged pieces, colors were applied evenly in single-tone fields.) The newest works -- both the "Nazca" pieces and the "Catenary Curve" paintings -- include lines, but rather than being geometric, they follow hypothetical contours naturalistically. Yust points out that even though he wasn't aware of the Nazca lines in Peru until the 1980s, Nazca-esque lines appear in his earliest paintings. See, I told you he'd come back to where he started.

A revelation of the show is how well the Yusts, especially the hard-edged ones, have held up over the years. The forms and the colors he incorporates look totally fresh and new even in those paintings that, unbelievably, are pushing forty years old. This makes his work completely relevant to what's happening now and makes that long drive to Fort Collins something worth doing.

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