Gallery Catalog Essay
Betsy Rosenfield Gallery, Chicago 1992
“At the appointed time, necessities become ripe. That is, the creative spirit (which one can designate as the abstract spirit) finds an avenue to the soul, later to other souls, and causes a yearning, an inner urge.”
-Wassily Kandinsky “On the Problem of Form,” 1912
The paintings of Andrew Young bespeak a haunting, yet poetic lament for a nature idealized and for a pictorial system based on human experience. Like others before him, Young’s search is an aesthetic one, a journey where the past and the present, the illusionary and the abstract meet and intertwine.
The artist employs the temperamental medium of egg tempera paint on small wood panels, borrowing the technique and palette of the Sienese masters and the illusionistic properties of Pompeiian wall paintings. A harmony of warm ochres, golds, reds, and umbers is applied in thick layers, and disrupted by a seemingly-random series of painterly flecks, drips, and daps. Intentional cracks, splits, and seams appear like scars on the surfaces of these delicate, altar-like works whose skins are further worked and distressed by the artist, creating a sentimental patina. The final effect is that of enigma and historic decay—nostalgia for an artistic tradition based on the fusion of empirical systems with inner spirituality.
Despite their aura of calm repose however, a pointed tension exists between the paintings’ more representational images and loose grid of geometric forms. This tension brews both within singular works and throughout Young’s oeuvre; this exhibition representing the most recent bracketing of the artist’s concerns.
Works such as Russet Dresses, Rare Music, and Furnishing reflect the more representational crescent of this enclosure. Here, slender enframements give the illusion of architectural space, in which implied transoms, doorways, and shelves add structure and depth. For instance, in Russet Dresses, two stacked octagons centrally ground the composition, creating an open window through which hovers a rich field of blue-black paint. Gestural strokes of yellow-white pigment allude to lily-like flowers, casting an ethereal air and calling attention to the subtle divide between the painting’s back-and foregrounds.
Popular Bath and Rain and Black represent Young’s experiments in abstraction, a shift that has evolved more forcibly in recent years. The shallow spaces of the above mentioned works have collapsed in favor of linear flatness, their presence minimalized by a geometric ordering of simple ovals and semi-circular shapes. The disintegration of material form allows for an integration of viewer experience. Color, line, and nuance are, therefore, elevated to spiritual subject, further reinforced in Rain and Black by the use of the diptych format.
You Would lies centrally within these two modes of expression, yet embraces both objective and non-objective means. A lattice of flowers and filigree recalls the ornamental patters of Art Nouveau, while two small ovals create a mirror-like motif. Although the painting’s symbol content is familiar, even domestic, it is ambiguously rendered. The compressed relationship between the work’s surface and internal structure forces an intimate reading, yet the narrow seam by which to further penetrate the work keeps the viewer at bay.
The artist’s use of appropriation might, at first, be interpreted as mere formal exercise. But by reclaiming painting’s origins in aesthetic history Young offers us a sense of hope. Like a sacred relic or artifact from some distant culture, Young’s paintings invite a quiet balance between internal and external reflection, as well as a visceral encounter between viewer and object that tugs warmly at our need for understanding.