by Elenore Welles


(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 [1971], 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.


"The Green Nile," o/c,
30 x 24", 1998.

"Arabia," col. wdct.,
18 x 11 3/4", 1960.

"The Expedition," col. wdct.,
15 x 20 1/2", 1989.


"The Woman Who Waits by the Sea,"
bronze, 27 x 15 1/2 x 7", 1992.

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 [1960] 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 [1989] 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 [1998] 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 Woman 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.