Judy Van Heyst meets Jim Bass – “Connections”

The one, Judy Van Heyst, who was born in Philadelphia PA, but when young lived in Olathe, Kansas on a horse-corn farm, then moved away, at first to the East and later in life to the Southwest, to Taos, New Mexico. The other, Jim Bass, is a born Kansan of Bohemian parentage and could be dubbed Topeka’s sculptor in residence. Both create their art influenced by the earth. Both have been at it for longer than a half century and cannot, will not, stop their “poetic activity”; and both are recognized as artists of great resilience and eminence. This summer, at Pioneer Bluffs, they are connected for the first time. 

“Found elements, both natural and man-made, are recurring materials for my collages. These elements must interest, excite, or fascinate in some way.”

Judy Van Heyst utilizes what she has found, collected, has specially created or transformed as the initial stimulus in the making of her art. Scraps of paper, some with fragments from her notebooks, some of light tissue paper transformed by layers of paint, encaustic and acrylic binders are overlapped and layered, partially revealing, partially concealing what lies beneath.

Surface texture can be created by the use of scraps of fabric, pieces of string and yarn, grasses, leaves, coffee grounds and sand. It is a process of making a unified whole from a grouping of fragmentary materials of different essences. These items, taken from familiar surroundings and recombined toward an aesthetic purpose also brings their own associations along. Images are suggested and subtly implied but not defined. “It is essentially a poetic activity.”

The show in the Gallery at Pioneer Bluffs includes Van Heyst’s recent abstract works. She moves between opposites of hard-edged geometrical shapes to soft flowing, atmospheric suggestions of a pictorial space. “In my recent Anasazi (Chaco) Series I saw designs on pottery dating back to 1000 A.D. while camping in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. These were tight, precise designs using a sophisticated understanding of negative and positive spaces — very hypnotizing and complex.” Accompanying the six works within the Chaco Series, she is lending her notebook which illustrates her process and thinking, her research, her responses. “I find that line drawings on site are more useful to me than photos.”

While the Chaco Series uses a limited palette of neutral coloration, her other works are lyrically coloristic. Colors merge and overlap; amorphous, transparent colors are used beside opaque shapes. The hard-edged, precise line of the Chaco Series is absent.  Line, in these abstractions may outline specific shapes, but often works as a strong but delicate calligraphic statement meandering across, changing width and direction, becoming a thread-like drawing on top of the painted, stitched, or layered surface. Some of these abstractions resemble aerial views which one enters from a new perspective.

Judy Van Heyst is a graduate from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA with a degree in Art Education.

Judy Van Heyst’s museum exhibits include Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ; Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE; The Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, NM; and Rutgers University, Rutgers, NJ. She also showed her work in Cork Gallery, Lincoln Center, NYC, NY; TCA Encore Gallery, Taos, NM; Thomas Moser Gallery, Philadelphia, PA; and Read–Johnson Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe, NM.

Jim Bass operates his own bronze foundry and studios outside of Topeka, Kansas. His work derives its imagery from prairie themes and the Midwest influence. His work expands on directions charted by cubism, yet is also reminiscent of the cubic solidity of limestone formations and post rocks, and of the shapes of the prairie – it is “French spoken with a Kansas accent.” His figures are rugged and sturdy, stocky and muscular, rooted in their culture, and unified with an overall interest in rhythm. “I like to impact a feeling of strength in my sculptures of people,” Bass says. “Abstract figurative forms float easily to the surface. This imagery for me is the best way to express my interest in celebration, perseverance and strength.” 

”Form is important, poetic spirit is important, and connecting through communication is important. I am interested in my heritage and linking the past, our prairie culture, to a selection of my favorite present-day forms. For art to have a universal meaning it must first find regional roots.”

Having studied under Bernard Fraizer and Elden Tefft at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Jim Bass also worked with Rudolfo Gonzales in Guanajato, Mexico on primitive methods of bronze casting. While there, he was impressed by the murals of Orozco, Rivera and Siqueiros as well as the strong sense of history in the public art of the nation. Later, his own work, also influenced by Braque, Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore, drew attention not only for what it represents but also for the unique method of manufacture.

The lost wax process that came of age after WWII coincided with the time he was finding his way around the foundry – a time of great experimentation wrought with both disappointment and discovery. He engineered his own foundry and now manages to give his bronzes the earth tones that relate to the Midwest landscape –sepias, oranges, reds– by using a particular alloy, nickel-bronze, which contains copper; the surfaces are eroded to bring out colors and crystal-like textures. When using a copper alloy with nickel in it, the surfaces turn into silver. His craftsmanship –creating is one fluid process, totally controlled– is widely recognized and keeps attracting colleagues and art students to his studios outside of Topeka.

Jim Bass has public works on display in scores of towns in Kansas, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota. His smaller sculptures in limited editions were shown at University Place Art Center, Lincoln, NE; Kansas Gallery of Fine Arts, Topeka, KS; Walker Art Gallery, Kearney, NE; and Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, KS; and have found homes all over the Midwest and beyond.