RUSSELL YOUNG was born in 1959 to an unwed mother in the isolation of Northern England. He was adopted at four months old by Ken and Lesley Young. The new family migrated across the north. From an early age Young felt like an outsider. He was powerfully drawn to the idealized drama and warm comfort of the American dream. Everything American he came in contact with represented freedom, possibility and sun. Young hated school and by the age of 14 often skipped out entirely.
He landed at the Chester Art College where he studied photography, film and graphic design under Jack Straw, who shaped Young’s early development. He continued on to Exeter Art College and to London where he was unable to find a job. After months on the streets he began assisting photographer Christos Raftopoulos. Raftopoulos, an aesthete, took him under his wing and taught him to see a new world of light and sharp detail. Raftopoulos pushed Young to take on projects of his own. He started at the live club shows of Bauhaus, R.E.M. and the Smiths. He quickly picked up work for magazines and eventually began sessions for the record companies. In 1986, he shot the ‘Faith’ sleeve for George Michael, launching him towards America and opportunity. He did portraits of Morrissey, Bjork, Springsteen, Dylan, New Order, Diana Ross, Paul Newman and many other celebrities. He began to direct music videos; one hundred during the glory days of MTV.
In 1992, Young moved to Hollywood. He met Finola Hughes, they married and life took shape for him in America. His career as a photographer and music video director was flourishing, so he began to make time to paint seriously. Young moved to New York and rented a studio in Brooklyn and began a series of experiments he called, ‘Combine Paintings’. He also started what he believed were clearly extensions of photography. He begins his series of ‘Pig Portraits’. They attacked the nature of photography, portraiture and prickly nature of celebrity itself.
In 2003 Young and his family moved back to California and built a house on the coast, 80 miles north of Los Angeles. Young built a studio on the compound and began working alone, focusing on the development of ideas and flying east to New York to work with his master printer and team.
Young began to use diamond dust in 2007, pressing the crystals into the enamel of the paintings. He was drawn to the opulence of the light, shimmering off the multi-faceted glass. He hung the paintings from the trees of his California garden. At night the moon shone blue on the crystals. The images were lost in the abstract flicker of light only to once again, reclaim their place. In the monochrome paintings we recognize Marilyn Crying and Kurt Cobain. Then the light falls on the diamonds and the choir sings. He called them “Dirty Pretty Things” and seemed to assault the idea of even looking at pictures, turning the experience into chewing bubble gum.
In February 2010, Young was admitted to the Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, California and diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, the Swine Flu. Young endured an 8-day induced coma with doctors and loved ones skeptical of recovery. After a lengthy stay in hospital, Young emerged from his near-death experience with severe memory loss and an incredibly weak body. Little by little, he built back his strength and began examining his life and his surroundings in a whole new way. He says, “I left the hospital and I had to learn to breath, write, draw, think, and walk for the second time in my life.”
Young continues to challenge and reinvent himself using bold, forceful checks and assaults on his own systems to find new ways of expression. He uses themes, still with him from boyhood, to express feelings of isolation, alienation, entrapment and the marginalized dreams of an outsider fighting for a way into the light and expression. His work has been shown in London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Singapore, New York, Detroit, Miami and Los Angeles.
Russell Young lives and works on the California coast and in Brooklyn, New York.