Copper in the Arts

November 2011

Nicholas Yust: Fine Metal Art from Both Sides of the Brain

By Anney E. J. Ryan

Freestanding copper wall art by Nicholas Yust. Freestanding copper wall art by Nicholas Yust.

Photograph courtesy of Nicholas Yust

Alchemy comes to mind when looking at the metal art of Nicholas Yust. Take a typical Yust wall sculpture: a perfectly cut frame of aluminum and copper offer open windows, displaying deep red flushes of heat and electricity. There's the feeling that the uncontrollable has been controlled, the untethered tethered, the impossible made possible. Yust captures the surge of energy and infuses it into his sculptures.

Initially, Yust studied fine art at the University of Cincinnati, working in abstract oil pastels. The right side of Yust's brain was bored though, so he switched to major in engineering. At Wright State University in Dayton, he studied Materials Engineering with a focus in metallurgy, and worked towards a master's while co-oping with the Air Force. This work was all science, no art - but it was here he began working with copper, studying the applications of different alloys for high energy defense mechanisms.

Yust started making art from aluminum in 2003, on the job, when he took a metal fixture and tried to make it look photogenic for a paper on his project with the Air Force and for his master's thesis. He enjoyed the process so much, he started experimenting with metal on the side. Two years later, he switched to copper.

"You can't achieve things with aluminum that you can with copper," says. "Copper is more difficult to grind on because it's so soft; it likes to smear."

Grinding is a signature part of Yust's artwork. In his wall art, he uses an air-powered hand-held grinder with different sanding/grinding pads and hand motions to create energy-inspired designs, like spirals, waves, squares, and trees.

The artist and his work. Nicholas Yust surrounded by his work.

Photograph courtesy of Nicholas Yust

"I've always been fascinated with the fact that you can't see all forms of energy," said Yust. He explained that in his pieces, he tries to show what energy would look like if it could be seen "in a human element."

When coloring copper, Yust chooses heat over chemicals, using propane, butane or an oxy-acetylene torch to create a spectrum of color.

"There's more dimension to the color one can get out of copper," explains Yust.

Recently, Yust's art extended to the corporate world. He has splashed his trademark designs on signs, corporate logos, outlet covers and even clocks. Homeowners have commissioned him to create custom valances for windows and back splashes for kitchens, showers and waterfalls. He's covered entire front doors with his art.

For the past five years, Yust has shown his copper and aluminum art all over the US, sold his work in 38 countries, and built his own studio and gallery in his hometown of Cincinnati.

Yust's work will be featured at Miami's Art Basel from November 30 to December 4, with upcoming shows in Baltimore and New York next year.


Nicholas Yust Gallery, 3602 Eastern Ave., Cincinnati, OH, (513) 284-6737

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