John Young’s visual history of violence and benevolence


With various streams of work underway at any one time, John Young remains a nimble investigator of the intersection between traditional art making and the complexities of digital output. In his latest show, he has refined his enduring interests: his distinctive approach to colour and form probes the nature of memory, resonance and effect.

For at least 15 years Young has been exploring these ideas through what he describes as his ‘History Projects’, which focus on the history of violence and benevolence (and include a history of Chinese people in Australia since 1840). Young has also produced his ‘Abstract Paintings’, a long-term project exploring the effect of technology on bodily skills.

For None Living Knows, he is presenting new works, including his recent Shiva paintings, which refer to the practice in Judaism of “sitting shiva” with a recently deceased person. This practice, he says, also relates to the big events in life—famine, flood, plague—after which we “sit in silence” and heal, so that one day “beauty and presence” might return.

The second group of new paintings are a meditation on the long walks made by Chinese immigrants on arrival in Australia in the late 19th century—walks made in order to avoid poll taxes and other restrictions. The walks were barely documented and Young wonders what went through the minds of the people on these perilous journeys without maps, insufficient water or food, and the threat of arrest as illegal migrants.

In the resulting paintings, Young ponders the wretchedness, death and suffering—but also the steely determination of these travellers.

None Living Knows
John Young
Moore Contemporary
5 October—12 November

This article was originally published in the September/October 2022 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Andrew Stephens