Pretty Is A Dangerous Thing

  April 18 2017 | Berkeley, CA

This April, Tasha Ostrander of braveARTconsulting had the incredible pleasure of a studio visit with Yari Ostovany at his Bay Area studio. A discussion unfolded of various material and ethereal/mystical workings of creativity that go beyond pretty and into the realm of discovered beauty. Beauty is not always pretty but informs and sustains itself on a soul level as a teacher and a signifier of deeper levels of thought, feeling and aesthetics.
Yari Ostovany paints as if music, pigment and safflower oil all share the same viscosity. A baritone singer with the San Francisco Choral Society off and on for the last 25 years, he speaks of various qualities that music and abstract painting share.

Ostovany: “Music has always been very important to me and I think of my work in some ways as musical compositions in paint, I am not translating music into a pictorial state at all, but going back to the original source where music comes from because a lot of the elements are the same; you deal with rhythm, loudness, softness, warm and cold colors… And I do believe in that saying, that all music is our most direct connection with the world beyond, I think it’s the most readily excepted form of art as abstract. It’s not questioned. You don’t get what quite often painters get, What does this mean? What is this trying to show? With Music, it either takes you somewhere or it doesn’t. You never question what does this mean? What does this piano riff mean? Music, and just poetry in general, and again not just poetry but the poetic, of going back to the source where that energy comes from – the energy before it becomes poetry, the energy before it becomes music is what I try to connect with. Years ago I read something about Antoni Tàpies whose work I’ve always admired, he said he didn’t work from nature, he worked with nature. On a very fundamental level I work with the gravity of the earth, as I let the paint come down the canvas and I turn it and I let other layers go over those and move. This always amazes me, its an amazing source of energy that we take for granted.

Ostrander: I think to connect with the Source there is a constant back and forth between knowing and not knowing. A trust is required to dialog with the materials. It’s a constant fluctuation of creating, trusting, destroying that which is too comfortable to create something of interest. When I look at the way Gerhard Richter works there are points where he’s achieved a really gorgeous piece and then goes and wipes it all out and it becomes something else quickly, he’s so daring it’s almost painful to watch but the result is something of incredible beauty… at the cost of a few pretty paintings below the surface.

Ostovany: PRETTY is the operative word here, Pretty is a very dangerous thing verses beauty because sometimes you arrive at something pretty that you could be quite happy with, and some collectors would be quite happy with as well, but something inside is gnawing at you that it is not beautiful, it’s pretty. And then that destroying and rebuilding, that’s also kind of a tricky thing because if you think of it as destroying, that takes you in a different direction but when you step back and look at the longer arc of it, that’s just another step in the evolution of the work. And I always say you can never ruin a painting if you dare to ruin it. If you don’t have faith and you get to some place that feels somewhat comfortable, you just stay there, and that I find dangerous. And that’s what Richter is talking about. I actually learned that through Francis Bacon many years ago, if I’m not mistaken, he said that when you get stuck in a painting, it’s usually what you like most in it that’s keeping you, so you have to paint that out. That’s a very difficult thing to do at first because you’re very attached to it. But then you realize it’s not about having a beautiful area in a painting, it’s about having a painting that works as a whole.

And again, about music, I’m drawn to many different composers, foremost among them being Bach and Beethoven, and the way I work actually has to do more with Beethoven not with Mozart where everything was basically dictated from the above. What is special about Beethoven is that he took something very mundane, things that people might not even notice, and just kept working it and working it until he got a gem out of it. He didn’t look for a gem, he built a gem, through trial and error, by “destroying and rebuilding”. I approach it the same way, whatever happens on the canvas, the next thing is usually a response to that, and then the next thing is a response to that. Then again, as I said earlier it stays at that level until another sense, a breath of life, is what I call it, comes into the piece. It’s really difficult to put your finger on it, and when and how that happens, but when it happens you know it, and then that’s when you get rid of the pretty and enter the realm of the beautiful.

Ostrander: Alchemy seems to be the undercurrent of what Yari’s paintings all are about. From the diverse elements of creative structures passed down from old masters of music and abstractions, to the chemical reactions of materials interacting with one another, to the connection with nature’s source, ones own soul evolves, base becomes light, we fight mediocrity and strike for luminescence of our own knowing. The artist grows to know his incantations and we are left with the gems of beautiful paintings.

Photo © 2017 Tasha Ostrander

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