From engineer to artist to entrepreneur: Nicholas Yust grinds out a career in the art world

Nicholas Yust in his Columbia-Tusculum gallery

Nicholas Yust in his Columbia-Tusculum gallery

By Connie Yeager

Metal artist Nicholas Yust graphically personifies the creative possibilities of a STEAM (science/technology/engineering/arts/math) education.

Yust’s modern metal wall art and metallic sculpture are dynamic, contemporary and multi-layered. He works with aluminum, copper, bronze and stainless steel, noting the qualities of each lend themselves to different aspects of his distinctive techniques. For his almost-holographic texture patterns, or “grindings” – of which he has 20-something signature designs – he prefers working with stainless steel. His dry-sphere, atomized acrylic spray paint process packs the most punch on his aluminum pieces. He melds both techniques in many of his works (“I call it painting with a grinder,” he said), which produces a mesmerizing, arresting depth that shimmers and shifts with one’s focal point.    

Yust is as versatile and multifaceted as his art. The Cincinnati native and Oak Hills High School graduate began his college career at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning. He studied interior architecture and oil pastels for two years, but “got bored with art” and started taking math and science classes. He transferred to Wright State University, eventually earning degrees in materials and metallurgical engineering while working at nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Nicholas Yust, “Feathering,” ground and painted aerospace aluminum, 30’’ x 36”

Nicholas Yust, “Feathering,” ground and painted aerospace aluminum, 30’’ x 36”

Yust’s career synergy occurred in stages. While walking through a Dayton mall as a college student, he spotted artwork in textured aluminum frames that he liked but couldn’t afford. “My dad has restored cars his whole life, and I knew that he had the tools to create the textured effect, so I bought scrap aluminum and fabricated my own frames,” he said. At the time he was working at General Electric Aviation with electron microscopes and noted the metallic chemical and thermal reactions he saw through the lens “were almost like pop art.” They provided the inspiration for the images within his aluminum frames, and soon he was making pieces for friends and family as well.

“When I got sick of them, I put them on eBay, and they sold for hundreds of dollars,” he said. “I thought, ‘No way. This is awesome!’ At least I could afford to pay for my hobby, which eventually became my passion.”

The next phase evolved from a 12-week hiatus from GE. “It was a time of exploring and experimenting, and I started to build a pretty decent following.” When the eBay market became saturated and prices tanked, he developed a website presence, which took off and gave him enough confidence to try his first juried art show in 2007. He recalled selling only one piece at Artexpo New York, on the last day of the show. That was not enough to pay for his expenses, but, he said that first personal interaction with a buyer “blew me away.”

I was hooked at that point,”  he said. While he eventually burned out on the show circuit, he still does a handful of strategic shows, such as Baltimore’s American Craft Council, New York’s Artexpo and Miami Beach’s Art Basel.

Nicholas Yust, “Fusion,” ground and sealed stainless steel, 66’’ x 30”

Nicholas Yust, “Fusion,” ground and sealed stainless steel, 66’’ x 30”

He left GE in 2008 and now focuses on his art business full time. He built a studio on Columbia-Tusculum’s Eastern Avenue, the neighborhood where he resides; it now serves as his public gallery. His works are displayed in 41 countries, in both private and public venues, including such Fortune 500 companies as Procter & Gamble, Conde Nast, Holiday Inn, Starbucks and GE, and such universities as Purdue, Michigan, Cincinnati and Kentucky. They’re also seen in galleries, including two in Manhattan, and in March he is slated to open his second gallery in Salt Lake City in partnership with his website developer.  

Yust’s entrepreneurial spirit has led him to offer design contests and scholarship opportunities to college students through his reproduction art business, and he draws family and friends into his professional sphere.

“My dad (retired Delhi police officer Bob Yust) has been working with me since day one, for 11 years,” Yust said. His father oversees the packing and shipping of the art, as well as logistics for art shows. Brother Adam is also involved with the business.

Nicholas Yust, “Cosmic Encounter,” 60″ x 36″

Yust encourages the success of fellow artists as well. Mark Serrianne, retired CEO of Northlich, whose assemblage sculptures are displayed at Yust’s Columbia-Tusculum gallery, said his introduction to Yust was serendipitous. Serrianne, who at the time was still developing his art, ran across Yust’s gallery while searching for an art co-op. The two connected, and “Nick kind of gave me a nudge, saying, ‘It’s time for you to go public,’ ” Serrianne recalled. Yust’s gallery currently exhibits works by about half a dozen artists, including his fiancee, Celeste.

“Nick is a great supporter of Columbia-Tusculum,” said Kathie Hickey, president of the Columbia-Tusculum Community Council. “He not only has a business on Eastern Avenue, he lives in CT. He also plays in CT and can be found at the area restaurants, watering holes and gyms. Nick also supported the Tusculum Street Fest in its inaugural year.”

Yust has ambitions for expanding the artistic footprint of his community. “One of my goals is that I would love to be able to open a large space and open it up to artists’ studios,” he said, and he also has a vision of developing a gallery district in Columbia-Tusculum.

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