Thursday, September 29, 2011

Die Like You Really Mean It

Doug Young - Untitled - 2011
Die Like You Really Mean It is a group exhibition at the Allegra LaViolla Gallery that celebrates painting as a healthy, living, and variegated mode of art making in New York. Each work selected emphasizes artistic passion and registers as a highly charged expression of the individual artist.  In contrast to the intentionally ironic, these paintings are sincere and, at times, viscerally rendered.

I interviewed Doug Young, one of twenty-one artists featured in the exhibition, about art-making and his new body of work. His two included pieces  -- Untitled (seen above) and Hallway -- are from a series of reverse paintings on glass rendered with automotive paints and ensconced in monumental, graphite-finished wooden frames. These works are confrontational as paintings, objects, and images. The paint is direct and assertive, yet whimsical and quirky. The imagery included in the exhibition is evocative of childhood wonder and curiosity, yet haunting and resonant of the out-of-body.

Die Like You Really Mean It is on view October 26 through December 03, 2011. Opening reception: October 26, 6-9pm.

Hallway - 2010
Wanderlust: So you have a new body of work…reverse paintings on glass. They differ substantially from the sculptural work you’ve done in the past. Tell me how these paintings came into being and a bit about how they’re made.

Doug Young: Well, I started out as a painter, but I stopped making paintings for about 5 years. I was throwing around ideas about how to get back into oil on canvas, but I didn’t want to go back to exactly that routine. Every time I started a new sculpture, I asked myself “how would this look from a 2-d perspective?” I had an idea for a sculpture that sat around in my head for a couple of years about capturing the vantage point from the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. In the meantime, I was at a flea market and I came across an old painting on glass…an Asian landscape embellished with gold leaf and reflective paints. Something clicked. I said, this is how I’m going to get back to making 2-dimensional works.

I thought that the image from inside the Millennium Falcon would be the perfect starter painting because it references glass, thereby making sense conceptually and visually. It is also an iconic image of Han Solo going into hyperspace and, as with my past work, using imagery of childhood wonders is compelling.

But now I had to figure out how to do this. I tested out how to adhere paint to glass and through these experiments I came across automotive paint, which has a lustrous surface and would further establish the attitude of the image.

Diamond - 2011
W: So, what’s the process of how these paintings are made?

DY: The bare bones is that I simply apply paint to the reverse side of glass by any means necessary. It’s strange how each image provides unique paths into its creation. None of the paintings are created in exactly the same way, which is one of the things I was dreading might happen. One can be a servant to a technique and that is not the case here. I keep finding new problems to solve with each new painting.

Painting in process
W: Why glass and what are the means? Paintbrush?

DY: The paint is both sprayed on and cut away with the help of various tools. And the reverse application on glass allows for a unique surface to come into play, the breadth of which is endless. The application of paint is born through a constructive strategy rather than a romantic brush stroke. It is in this construction that I draw parallels to making sculpture. In fact, as objects they relate to my interest in the crafting of folk art. Some of my past sculptures have dealt with popular traditions such as rug hooking and tramp art.

Diamond, Untitled, Helmet - all 2011
W: Can you talk a bit about the two sizes of your paintings? Some are large, monumental works in massive frames, and others are smaller and more intimate.

DY: It depends on the image whether it gets a large or small format. Some images work better on the scale of a personal experience and not shared. However, I wanted to establish a sense of neutrality through the continuous use of the square format, in order to maintain an awareness of the image as an object and not as a “painting.”

W: I love how many of these works function as windows rather than frames. It seems intentional…with the Milennium Falcon, the motorcycle helmet, and the death chamber images in particular. Is this important to you when selecting an image?

DY: Not necessarily. I am less focused on being a voyeur, which a window alludes to, and more focused on capturing fundamentals of human spirit. For example, in Untitled (death chamber) you can view it as a window into an execution room, which it is, but I chose that vantage point less for its naturalistic attributes and more for capturing the ethereal characteristics of dread and the fear of dying. And it just so happens that the automotive paint facilitates this quite nicely, allowing the viewer to experience a transition from the corporeal to the out-of-body.

W: There are graphic qualities and pop-like elements to your work that remind me a bit of Ed Ruscha? Do you see a connection with him, or any other artist?

DY: With regards with Ed Ruscha I see less of a direct linear connection and more of how we both have a dialogue with the surface of the “canvas.” However, the shared romantic notion with Hollywood movie making and the drama of cinema is a direct path for stimulating new ideas for work, and a rich, compelling and engaging subject.

HAL - 2010
W: In Richard Hamilton’s obituary from the New York Times. I came across a quote of his from 1961 that made me think of your work. “If the artist is not to lose much of his ancient purpose, he may have to plunder the popular arts to recover the imagery which is his rightful inheritance.” Do you agree?

DY: Yes, I agree. I feel some images have timeless attributes despite their current connotations. These images, although they come from popular culture, can elicit a stirring, personal experience. And who is to say, on a poetic level, who owns such images?

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