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Ynez Johnston - Artists - Louis Stern Fine Arts

Gate to the East, 1963    
oil on canvas
59 x 45 inches;  149.9 x 114.3 centimeters
LSFA# 14315 

YNEZ JOHNSTON (1920-2019)

Ynez Johnston worked tirelessly over seven decades of artmaking to bring imaginary lands, mythical beasts, and fantastical voyages to exuberant life. Her innovative painting, sculpture, and printmaking practice was as varied and diverse as her influences, owing as much to the European Modernist works of Henri Matisse and Paul Klee as the narrative and decorative structures found in Indian and Persian miniature paintings and Tibetan Thangkas. Seeded from an amalgamation of ancient and modern cross-cultural influences, Johnston's captivating visual language emerged as a fully-fledged chimerical phenomenon all its own, immutably tethered to her strange and romantic inner life.

Johnston was born in Berkeley, California, where the wharves and fog of the San Francisco Bay Area would prove foundational influences on her dreamy aesthetics and thirst for adventure. She obtained her BFA and MFA from UC Berkeley and was invited to present her first solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1943. A travel grant permitted her to live and make art in Mexico between 1941-1943, sparking a passion for travel and inspiring future visits to numerous countries including Nepal, Spain, India, Cambodia, and Italy.

Johnston moved to Los Angeles in 1949, exhibiting frequently at prominent venues including Paul Kantor Gallery and the Los Angeles County Museum. The following year she was one of three artists included in a New Talent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the first of many presentations of her work on the East Coast. Johnston would form enduring friendships with a number of fellow Southern California artists, including June Wayne, Lee Mullican, and Emerson Woelffer.

Over the course of a lengthy and fruitful career, Johnston developed an enigmatic symbolic vocabulary to describe the legendary adventures and mysterious denizens of imaginary worlds. Her vigorously tactile paintings and sculptures made use of any materials at hand which offered creative potential, mingling canvas and oil paint with commercial epoxy resin, raw silk, wax, chemical dyes, sand, and carved wood. A voluble cast of recurring glyphs and composite forms depict fanciful creatures prowling invented continents, cloud cities bristling with pyramids and palaces, and bulbous ships traversing sparkling harbors and whirling maelstroms. Johnston’s feverishly inscribed markings comprise an alien language that is nonetheless elusively legible, chronicling a mystical codex from a far-off realm to be deciphered by fellow travelers.

Works by Ynez Johnston have been regularly exhibited across the United States and internationally, including shows in Japan, India, and Brazil. She is represented in over 60 institutional collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Brooklyn Museum; Smithsonian American Art Museum; National Gallery of Art; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Art Institute of Chicago; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Dallas Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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