It was some 60 years ago, in middle-American Wichita, Kan. – hardly the place one thinks of as a metropolitan epicenter of culture and modern creative genius – that Dave Yust tagged along with his parents to visit with their artist friends, and decided that he wanted a share in their genuine love and curiosity of life, art and the world.
And at the time, while he couldn’t pinpoint what made those artists special, different people — diversely separate from the logical-critical thinkers and left-brained analytics – he knew they had the creative key to discover the world they lived in.
Even after his early, creative epiphany and art appreciation, catalyzed by his parents’ artistic interests and developed in part by personal tow, Yust spent several years after adolescence testing the waters before realizing his desire to pursue the arts.
Years later, after finding his creative niche as an acclaimed abstract artist and CSU painting professor, Yust sat in a green and purple paisley shirt in awkward juxtaposition to the gray mail room and painted his personal story with as much color and precision as one of his paintings.
And it was in that state of visual contrast – so contrary to the stereotypical, brooding artist in black – that Yust detailed his artistic journey, his work, and his largest exhibition yet at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities in Denver, added to his growing list of shows and exhibitions.
“Looking Back/Looking Forward, 1970s-2008: Explorations in Symmetry and Inclusion Series and Circles and Ellipses,”
Chronology behind the colorful talent
Parallel to his early exposure to the arts outside the home, 69-year-old Yust was exposed to the artist realm, like many people, in his elementary school art classes and then continued on to take various arts courses and expand that passion through high school.
In the early 1990s, Yust received a simple brown package in the mail sent by his elementary school art teacher, Zelma Zimmerman. Nestled inside, in what Yust said was a “flashiback,” was an abstract drawing that Yust drew in fourth or fifth grade and, much like his present-day work, exuded his classic geometric style and manipulation of color.
In the summer of 1951, when Yust was only 12 years old, he studied painting under the supervision of a post-impressionist landscape painter from Kansas, Birger Sandzén, who was about 80 years old at the time. Yust credits Sandzén with much of his knowledge and fascination with the manipulation of color.
Sandzén’s work, often compared to that of greats Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Matisse, was known for its vibrant colors, masses of paint and utilization of pointalism, a complex, visual painting style that Yust later redefined and simplified in his own terms.
“Sandzén was very savvy about impressionalism and he very greatly influenced my work,” Yust said. “Thinking about it, I would have to say that (Sandzén’s) works were patches of color, and instead of describing his style as pointalism, I would call it ‘patchalism,’ and that’s my own word,” he said laughing.
Yust said that Sandzén helped him to always think about the presence and power of color in a piece and greatly influenced his work and his infatuation with color values over the years.
Scared by the thought that he might “run out of ideas” for new pieces and deterred by social stigmas placed on creative “non-practical” careers, Yust studied aeronautical engineering at Wichita State University in Kansas for two years followed by two years of architecture at Kansas State University before he decided to pursue his true love, art.
“It took me that long to understand how important art was in my life,” Yust said.
“Being involved in art is almost more a way a living,” he said. “I made a decision when I switched to drawing and painting that I was going to move in that direction, and it wouldn’t matter what happened, I was going to make something happen.”
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in painting and drawing from the University of Kansas in 1963, Yust wanted to “start over” and “hitched” a ride out of Kansas to Denver with the daughter of his parent’s friends.
With only a few cardboard boxes, pots, pans and a bicycle with a consistent flat tire, Yust, who lived in a double-car, two-story garage in Denver’s Capital Hill district, set off on foot on the city streets to look for a job.
Blistered and tired from the search, he finally secured a position working at Roukema Schetina, an interior design consulting firm. In his time at the firm, he worked on the interior design of the Morgan Library, preparing the drawings for the display cases on the main level, some of which remain today.
With no TV, no car to provide distraction or escape and no fear of dripping paint on the concrete floors, Yust painted when he was not working and produced over 150 pieces from the summer of 1963 to late 1965.
In 1965, Yust was introduced to his wife-to-be, Joan, in his house in Denver. Joan was an art professor at CSU at the time, and when a position opened, Yust joined the Art Department that same year, where he has remained ever since.
In 1971, in the midst of civil rights movements on campus and across the nation, Yust, decided to combat hatred and bring peace to the school and the students, painted a black and white piece that, to him, represented equality and peace between men and women and all races, and gave it to CSU.
“It was given from my heart to try to promote peace and racial equality,” he said.
Shortly after it was hung in the Lory Student Center, where the clock now hangs above the elevator on the main floor, someone poked a slot through the painting with a knife.
More than a year after Yust patched the cut and restored its condition, about the time when several religious rallies were taking place on campus, someone wrote “Jesus is Lord” with a magic marker across the painting.
After it sustained much abuse, the piece was stolen in 1990 and only the mounting was left behind. In response, Yust decided to paint a piece to replace the stolen painting that focused on more current global issues.
Yust replaced the stolen piece in 1990 with the piece currently hanging on the wall at the east entrance to the LSC in front of Sweet Sinsations.
With years of experience and shows under his palate, a more clear understanding and knowledge of the world he once craved as a child, and a multitude of awards and decorations to add a punch of color, Yust opened one of his largest shows to-date on Sept. 18.
An artistic present
Yust’s exhibition career began in Denver in 1965 when his first works were displayed in the Denver Art Museum and evolved from gallery to gallery across the nation from the Indianapolis Museum of Art to the Minnesota Museum of Art to the Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary of Art in 1999.
Yust is a decorated and honored artist having received awards including:
The National Art Education Association Art Educator of the Year for Colorado Higher Education in 2003
The NAEAA Educator of the Year for the Pacific Region (a 13 state region)
CSU John Stern Distinguished Professor Award in 2005
“Looking Back/Looking Forward, 1970s-2008: Explorations in Symmetry and Inclusion Series and Circles and Ellipses,” Yust’s current exhibit – which opened on Sept. 18 and continues through Nov. 16 – is in the 6,000 square-foot, lower gallery at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities in Arvada, Colo. and includes over 80 diverse works from his extensive professional career.
“I am still fascinated by the inexhaustible challenges of abstraction and remain convinced that the imagery coming from my head is more inspiring and just as much a part of the real world as imagery from direct observation,” Yust wrote in an explanation about the exhibit.
Yust’s most recognizable style, though he said he does not have a classic and particular style in the artistic sense, is highly geometric and mathematically precise – with the majority of his newer pieces painted with acrylic paint on a circular canvas. The paintings — from fiery reds swathed in tranquil teals to earth-tone browns and eggplant purples — exemplify Yust’s early-developed passion and transfixion with color balancing and combination.
Yust said that while the exhibit features a large collection of pieces from more than 40 years of work, it is not a retrospective because it only focuses on two of his styles: more current elliptical pieces and circular and semi-circular pieces from the 1970s.
Drawing from his study of architecture, Yust said he follows a self-created idea that he refers to as “Chromaxilogic.”
Breaking up the word that he said “fit his work to a T,” Yust said the term came from the roots ‘chromo: meaning color and axiology: the study of value (moral and color) judgments.’
Arvada Center exhibition designer, Collin Parson began planning the exhibit in early spring and worked with Yust for about nine months to design and produce the intricate show that physically divides his work into two decades: the 1970’s on one half of the gallery and his work from the 1990’s up to about 2003 on the other half.
Parson said that it’s his job as an exhibition designer to get inside each artist’s head and help them to design their show in a way that satisfies the artist and the artwork – and that work starts early on by establishing a relationship with the artist.
“I have known Dave since I was a small child because he was a friend of my father who is a sculptor here in Colorado,” Parson said. “Because of that, I already had that relationship and knew what kind of an artist he was.”
“Artists can be challenging, but Dave was great to work with,” Parson said. “I felt a lot like I could have been the student and he could have been the teacher, and I learned a lot from him.”
Senior Reporter Madeline Novey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.