John Young


John Young has embraced the potential of technology, even while continuing to paint the old-fashioned way – very carefully. That is, with traditional oil-painting skills he refers to (not at all disrespectfully) as Jurassic technology. Downloading stock and found images from the web, from landscapes to nudes, he batches them up and has them transformed overnight via predetermined Photoshop filters into abstract drawings. These are then assessed and curated. The drawings are then painted diligently on canvases, the results utterly different to the originals, but bearing traces of colour and emotion, the essence of their original being, rather than figuration. He calls it a resonance.

Young, whose first exhibition was in 1979, is still impressed with what all this allows him to do. While a 20th-century artist might do 100 such abstract drawings in a lifetime, he has them there in an evening, ready to use as groundings for his interpretations.

Young has been working in this way for a long time now and has maintained a dual interest in the figurative and the abstract.

“I believe in retaining the craft of painting,” he says.

“I like to resuscitate and reinterpret it through the body. These abstract works are a shelter from the complete loss of a sense of corporeality in the world.”

His new exhibition at Sydney’s Olsen Gallery – his first solo show there – is divided into three different series that all form part of his long-term exploration of the interface between technology and the human body: the abstract paintings known as Spectrumfigures; chalk drawings on canvas that are more figurative; and The Bridge to Innocence and Safety which are figurative works that examine his continuing concern with “transnational humanitarianism”.

John Young
Olsen Gallery
30 May–17 June

Preview Words by Andrew Stephens