by Kia Momtazi
J.R. Yuransky has never taken any psychedelic drugs. But looking at his paintings, one could be excused for assuming otherwise. His large, vividly colorful canvases contain central images embedded amid geometrically fractured planes—if you stare at a painting fixedly and then shut one eye, the planes become three dimensional and start to project forward out of the canvas while the central image appears to be floating in space.
Yuransky calls this “the zedist effect,” referring to Zedism, a word he coined to describe his style of painting.
“I think I have created this new kind of illusion, kind of an induced hallucination,” says Yuransky. “You can get back from it and really have an experience; you can feel it as a sensation in your heart and in your gut that this really is a third dimension.”
If the effect sounds at all reminiscent of those “magic eye” computer-generated images that were all the rage in the ’90s—immortalized in one of the funnier scenes in Mallrats—it’s probably not a coincidence. A high-tech ceramics engineer who spent nine years making computer chips for the Japanese mega-company Kyocera, Yuransky is exceedingly well-versed in the world of digital technology. But while Yuransky knew he wanted his canvases to appear three-dimensional when he first began painting, his goals are much loftier than simply spawning the next generation of mall art.
“My goal as a painter is to uplift the human spirit, to bring enjoyment into the world, to make people think,” says Yuransky. “One of the hopes is to inspire and minimize the confusion between today’s technology and [the question]: Are we slaves to it or is it serving us—to minimize that and to see it as a beautiful thing.”
So what is Zedism exactly? Yuransky says the term comes from the root word “zed” and is based on the virtual projection of the z-axis coming out of the canvas, but the simplicity ends there. The 1,000-word treatise Yuransky wrote and put on his website, Zedism.com, contains a bewildering description in which surface morphology, topography, Cartesian coordinate systems, tessellations, crystallography, thermodynamics, fundamental molecular origins and chaos theory all come into play. Without a degree in ceramic engineering, it’s all pretty confusing, so it’s a good thing Yuransky sums it up much better himself.
Zedism is a “celebration” of the technological world, he says, “and my paintings are meant to take away the fear of that world, to some degree.”
If it seems a bit of a contradiction that Yuransky, who is so technologically adept, would choose a career in painting as opposed to some style of virtual art, he might argue that he is making virtual art, just in a physical form. Regardless, it seems the process of painting is what most agrees with him.
“When you’re sitting in front of a computer, it’s no great joy,” he says, “but when you’re standing in front of a canvas and you’re painting, you have color, and you have to mix things and you’re more organic. You’re a lot more connected to the physical world, and that’s a great feeling.”
Yuransky, 40, was born in Detroit and grew up in Sarasota, Fla. He says he knew he wanted to be a painter since he was 5 but felt the need to go out in the world and “study something that could be brought back to art.” He majored in ceramic engineering, studying how non-metallic matter behaves under different conditions. Though his education launched a successful career in high-tech ceramics—which has everything to do with computer chips and absolutely nothing to do with pottery—by age 28 he finally felt like he’d accumulated “enough information” to return to painting.
“The [Zedist] style really kind of manifested out of a dream I had,” Yuransky says. In his dream, he explains, different canvases from all the different master periods throughout history were floating around in space. Although all the canvases had the same image on them, he remembers specifically identifying the styles of Da Vinci, Renoir, Dali and Van Gogh. They all lined themselves up on top of each other, at which point his wife entered the dream with a giant knife.
“So this molecular structure, the breakdown and the angles of how I paint now, sort of came about from my wife coming through with a huge knife and carving up the canvas into many pieces and having them float around and reassemble themselves,” says Yuransky.
He quit his job with Kyocera the following year and painted full-time for another year, but the pressures of supporting his wife and two children mounted.
Working out of his garage, Yuransky shifted his focus from painting long enough to develop and patent the technology to print photo-quality images on military-style dog tags. The company he founded five years ago, Ego-Id, manufactures ID tags for mostly promotional purposes; companies use them for ticketing, membership passes and prize raffles, among other things.
“I didn’t want to have to suffer the painting for any want of financial gain,” says Yuransky. “That was always the main priority of doing other things, was to be really self-indulgent with [the painting]. That’s my purpose on the planet, to be quite honest, is to paint.”
When the office next to the Ego-Id headquarters serendipitously opened up on the corner of Wilson Street and Adams Avenue in Normal Heights, Yuransky jumped at the opportunity to turn it into a gallery. The Zedism Gallery has been open only since Sept. 22, and currently has most of Yuransky’s Zedist canon on display.
Though he says he plans to welcome non-Zedist works into the gallery as well, his ultimate dream is that Zedism will eventually catch on among other artists and become a new movement in painting.
“It’s a lofty goal. Maybe it’s a little delusional, but I think you gotta believe, right?” says Yuransky. “If you’re going to get something done, you gotta believe it and put everything you can into it, and I’m certainly guilty of that. Every ounce of energy I have and every thought I have is directed towards that goal.”