In the studio
Dustin Yellin
Los Angeles, USA

Dustin Yellin’s meticulous 3D collages envision intricate realities that interrogate consciousness and collective existence. With works in high demand from collectors worldwide and as the founder of his own cultural institution, Pioneer Works, Yellin operates at the intersection of art, science and social intervention.

Born in Los Angeles, raised in Colorado, but made as an artist in New York, Yellin’s practice has always been prolific and process-centred. Rather than a traditional art school education, Yellin studied for a year with a physicist harbouring a life-long preoccupation with the boundaries between art and science. He began his career extending his childhood taxonomy of insects, humans and botanical creatures – both real and imaginary – producing intricate images that appeared frozen in layers of resin, as if preserved for some kind of archaeological research. However, the health risks of working with resin forced Yellin to reconsider his method and led to the development of his signature technique: drawing, painting and collaging onto multiple layers of glass, then fusing them together with optically transparent glue. While the result had the same aesthetic sensibility as resin, it allowed Yellin to move back and forth between layers refining his painstaking dystopian visions of blood fountains and animal gods found in Triptych or the burning cars and rivers of fire from Stage with Antenna. Incorporating contemporary visual culture, from magazines, encyclopedias and books, Yellin’s work reaches across a breadth of art history from Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights of the early Flemish Renaissance, to Joseph Cornell’s assemblages and Hannah Höch’s photomontage.

“The universe and the mind are shadowy places seething with dark magic, seas of boundless depth and possibility, seething with joy and disaster.”

Taking its title from the writings of influential cultural theorist, Guy Debord, Psychographyies is an ambitious ongoing project which was most notably exhibited as the third installment of the Art Series at the New York City Ballet. Encased within fifteen rectangular glass prisms is a life-size human figure made up of thousands of tiny pieces of mixed-media. From a distance the figures appear fluid and spontaneous, like a hologram or a school of fish that had arranged themselves for a fleeting moment into the image of a human body. However, on closer look, each cut-out image has been carefully positioned by hand – resting stark, purposeful and unmoving. This fastidious attention to both the overall work and the elaborate detail within it parallels humankind’s constantly shifting private and public consciousness, placing it within a vast ecology connecting the self, history, culture and biology.

Drawing from Joseph Beuys notion of social sculpture and further developing Debord’s project to dissolve the boundaries between art and life, Pioneer Works is an extension of Yellin’s artistic practice. The innovative arts and sciences institution that has been coined The Factory of the current New York scene, comprises an impressive exhibition space, a diverse public programme, and studio residencies that play host to a range of artists, thinkers and researchers at any one time. Through these open studios, Pioneer Works exposes the mechanics of the creative process and provides a physical space where disciplines cross-pollinate and co-inspire. However, in order to realise his self-funded pipe-dream, Yellin has had to compromise his own work. Despite wanting to keep Phycogeographies together as one piece, he negotiates his artistic desires against the practicalities of running a physical institution; “Sell it, and we’ve got electricity”; “Sell it, we got stairs”; “Sell it, we got bathrooms”. This refreshingly grounded balance between bold artistic vision and go-getter pragmatism, along with striking insight and technical innovation, ensures that Yellin’s impressive legacy will continue to make a marked contribution to culture and art throughout the coming decades.

“Sometimes you have an idea, sometimes you have an art object, sometimes you have a cultural program. But at some point it’s all the same.”