Journeys through the dark

Yari Ostovany

Yari Ostovany sits in his living room beneath one of his paintings, “Fugue.”

Yari Ostovany sits in his living room beneath one of his paintings, “Fugue.”

Photo by David Robert

Yari Ostovany sees himself less as a creator of artwork than as a midwife, presiding over its birth. He understates his role in this process.

“The work has more to teach you than you have to teach it,” he emphasizes. “It takes time to reveal something to you. You have to let it unfold itself.”

Abstract, challenging paintings have been revealing themselves to Ostovany for more than two decades. A native of Tehran, Iran, Ostovany first moved to Reno in 1978, just months before the Islamic Revolution. He graduated from Reno High in 1980 and split the ensuing decade between Reno and Los Angeles, showing his first exhibitions in Reno in the late 1980s. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Nevada, Reno. Sipping strong coffee in his cozy southwest Reno home, he reflects on his experiences there.

“I had great teachers,” he says. “James McCormick, Bob Morrison, Fred Reid, and many others … At the time, in my 20s, I didn’t fully appreciate everything they did for me.”

He exudes a calmness to accompany his humble nature. Between thoughtful pauses and periodically raising his coffee mug to his salt-and-pepper bearded face, Ostovany, now 44, talks with subdued patience about an eclectic life spent studying and creating art.

During the 1990s, Ostovany lived and studied in San Francisco, where he earned an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, followed by a five-year stint in Cologne. Finally, two years ago, the “allure of Reno” called him back.

“I was surprised that the … energy of this place persisted in my mind,” he says.

His exhibition, A selection of paintings from the past ten years, is his first solo showing in Reno in more than 15 years, and it provides a good opportunity for Ostovany and Reno’s art enthusiasts to reacquaint themselves.

The paintings are visual representations of the artist’s ongoing personal journey.

“I like to think of my work as one huge painting over the span of my lifetime,” he says.

An almost eerie, voyeuristic sense crept up on me while looking at them. The pieces are moody. Some are angry or gloomy. Some are hopeful. Some strike me as downright confusing.

Many of the pieces seem a little dark.

“You need the dark,” he says flatly. “Without the dark, there can be no light … but light doesn’t let the dark have the upper hand.”

It seems he’s talking about more than his oil-based paints. For genuine mind-bending, though, refer to his artist’s statement:

“In my work I strive to touch the poetics of existence, that which is not linear and rests above and beyond the confines of the geometrical logic.”

The ideas are abstract, and if one isn’t careful, they can begin to bewilder. That’s fine with Ostovany. He is comfortable challenging you. The truth that Ostovany is trying to express comes easy to neither artist nor viewer. Some pieces he’s worked on for up to 10 years.

“The painting will tell you when it is finished,” he says.

Admiring a painting hanging in his cramped, madhouse working space, I ask, “Is this one finished?” He looks at it inquisitively. “I’m not sure. So, no, it isn’t finished.”

I feel like I’ve just witnessed an insightful conversation in a language I don’t understand.