Yuroz museum show (Mar 12 – May 28, 2016)
"Symbiosis,The Trees of Life Collection"/Yuroz
Call out: I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
-Joyce Kilmer, 1913
The two of the most famous lines in the history of poetry were written during the 20th century by Joyce Kilmer, whose memorable and influential verse on trees immortalizing their simple harmony resonates even today, and has been memorialized and celebrated forever by painters around the world for its simplicity and exceptional longevity. Trees continue to play an important part of our environment and our livelihood, as without their ability to generate oxygen and to purify the air we breathe, the inhabitants of this planet would surely perish. The oldest and largest living things on earth are trees, and consequently are an inspiration and symbol of strength, beauty and survival not overlooked by generations of artists. In many instances, the tree, standing alone or articulated in groups or patterns, has become a seminal emotional experience and the mainstay of many artists' communication with their audience.
From the beginning of history, artists have been particularly interested in the stark splendor and metaphorical significance of trees. The Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh created some of his greatest works in Saint-Rémy in the south of France; while outdoors there he painted his surroundings, from the flowers in the gardens to the trees that grew around him. Van Gogh's favorite work during this productive period was The Mulberry Tree (permanent collection of the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California), whose striking orange leaves and gnarly trunk growing out of a rocky terrain illuminated his interest in Impressionism and in documenting the landscape with rugged texture and bold color.
Yuroz, who has a sharp perspective on the history of art and a deep appreciation and respect for all the artists who have come and gone even before he was born, has developed an affinity for and continues to be motivated by the inherent allure of the tree. This fascination with trees and their organic forms has been shared by numerous artists throughout art history and, not surprisingly, by some of the greatest artists of all time. A modest investigation into artists who utilized and were inspired by trees is particularly helpful in examining and lending an historical perspective on the newest series of powerful works by Yuroz.
For hundreds of years, artists both prominent and virtually unknown were attracted to green leafy specimens for serving as the catalyst for inventiveness and interpretation. Rembrandt's The Three Trees (1643), is the largest and most striking etched landscape of his illustrative career, and is often mentioned by critics for its romantic sense of nature in flux. One of my favorites in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, not far from Yuroz's downtown studio, is Jacob van Ruisdael's The Great Oak (1652), whose majestic treatment of stately trees was a magical revelation in the mid-1650s. Linden Tree on a Bastion (ca. 1489) by Albrecht Dürer has a direct relationship with Sandro Botticelli's Cestello Annunciation, coincidently produced around the same time, which presents a religious portrait with a window open to a lonely tree standing tall for spiritual nourishment. An artist like Yuroz also is constantly on the lookout for creative nourishment, as it feeds an intuitive appetite that artists must satisfy as they finds ways to express themselves. Italian artists utilized trees for hundreds of years as a central part of religious paintings, manipulating the metaphorical connections to strengthening spiritual convictions and the magnificence of God's earth.
Later in the 1890s, Cézanne was attracted to the scrub pine that grew out of the rocks in Provence, where he painted one of his most stunning compositions, Large Pine and Red Earth, now in the permanent collection of The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. All of these extraordinary examples of documenting the appeal of trees followed the parade of invention that, bit by bit, began to become more abstract and much less realistic, which propelled artists to seek a new voice through abstracting their subject matter. Perhaps the best occurrence in the context of this essay is the early experiments of Piet Mondrian, who deconstructed and reduced to pure abstraction the altered outlines of trees. A prime occurrence is Avond (Evening); Red Tree, completed at the turn of the 20th century, set the stage for a jaw-dropping evolution in abstract painting from nature. These mature works offer clues to the development of this famous painter's ultimate contributions to art history, with his inventive interpretations of trees that within ten years had developed into pure geometric abstraction, and at the very end of his life in Broadway Boogie Woogie, Mondrian's most famous contribution to modern art.
It is appropriate to leave off here with Mondrian, as there is a wonderful connection to his works, including The Flowering Apple Tree (1912) and The Gray Tree (1912), with Yuroz's the new series of abstract trees, whose branches share a distant kinship with the series of tree-forms illustrated here.
Like legions of artists before him, Yuroz has spent the last several years exploring the innate beauty and native design features of trees. Like most artistic projects that are determined to find a new voice and style, this new series was built piece by piece, starting with the trunk of the tree and then, forgive the pun, branching out to the far corners of the canvas. As a mature painter with an international reputation and an admirable exhibition record, Yuroz has explored narrative abstraction for most of his career. Among other things, he has perfected a technique of painting that takes a cue from cubism and geometric abstraction and has embedded this inventive approach deep in the core of his compositions. In addition, his formal training as an architect with engineering experience, coupled with a demanding education at Akop Kodjoyan School of Art and the Architecture & Art School at University of Yerevan, has made him a powerhouse of complicated ongoing visual experiments that seem to gather all his experiences and tie them up as a multifaceted bundle of shapes and textures, including swaying branches and intriguing backgrounds that have become a recognizable signature of the artist's repertoire.
The newest series of works examines a variety of approaches to illustrating a favorite traditional subject that has mesmerized artists for centuries. But Yuroz goes beyond the acceptable boundaries of portraying trees by often incorporating an architectonic pattern within the picture plane that presents the viewer with an entirely new way of appreciating the natural manifestation of a tree through ambitious abstraction. The lines that are integrated into his layout are skillfully and accurately manipulated, and seem to distant themselves from pure organic shapes by transforming brushstrokes and drawn scratchy marks into refined creative components that often take on an ironic appearance of polished steel and sleek expressionist appendages. Other works are less angular and more animated, as a handsome assortment of branches shifts from side to side as if the wind was whispering theatrical directions. Yuroz seems to be able to tackle any connection to the configuration of a tree and then often tosses out an unexpected cross-hatched motif that appears to be an extension of his acclaimed visualization of characters and multiple interpretations of the human condition.
Another intriguing aspect of this new series is the artist's ability to establish convincing illusions by strategically placing larger and darker specimens in the foreground and gradually positioning lighter-colored tree forms that are a bit thinner to fill out the backgrounds, until Yuroz has fashioned a delightful, living virtual forest that seems to bend with the whispering breezes as nightfall approaches. In some cases, the artist builds up a juxtaposition of the urban locale with square buildings as backdrops that fade into a sunset accented by a glorious leafless maple waiting out the winter. At other times, Yuroz throws in an unconventional configuration by placing a well-proportioned single tree that hosts a lone red robin nesting in front of customized rolling hills, skillfully placed as if they were stage sets for an opera at the Met. In these charming depictions, the artist also acts as a stand-in poet, offering a kind of lyrical visual rhythm without words that challenge the observer to add a story line. Yuroz is comfortable in combining every possible incarnation of color and structure, which leads to a seemingly endless creative atmosphere that can be exceedingly rich with the changing hues of autumn or the striking reflections of a brilliant sunrise.
Just like a mighty oak tree that initially was germinated by a tiny seed, Yuroz has nurtured his own experiences from scratch, building compositions piece by piece until he is satisfied with the strength and overall design that comes to life and matures on canvas. The paintings can be small and intimate, reflecting a meditative moment, or he can expand his vision to monumental proportions, giving one the opportunity to be surrounded by magical woodland that seems to go on forever as it reaches for the heavens.
Among the most beautiful works are the carefully rendered preliminary sketches, which are earthly and convincingly real, retaining an unusual freshness like a perfect spring afternoon. With these studies come a range of opportunities for the artist to investigate, which he accomplishes with finesse and confidence. In many of these pastel and pencil conceptions, it is enjoyable to become hopelessly lost in a throng of inviting bare branches in every conceivable shape and size that reach out and nearly surround a viewer with complexity and engaging forms that take on a distinct personality of their own. Nothing seems to limit Yuroz in his constant quest to manipulate such a recognizable common denominator in nature, which he miraculously pushes in all directions, often on a grand scale, until the actual painting takes over the entire room. Not being able to see the forest for the trees now has a new meaning, for which the artist Yuroz should be proud of originating.