Gallery Catalog Essay
David Beitzel Gallery, New York 1992
Andrew Young is determined to show that paint’s continued hallowedness is worthwhile. Pillaging a wide swath of western art history, he takes lessons from such diverse idioms as Italian fresco painting, Dutch still life, even abstract expressionism. Working in a painstaking technique favored by fifteenth century Italians for their most sacred images, Young makes disarmingly beautiful pictures in a loose, almost subjectless language of color and texture and form. Looking at his recent work one is compelled to believe (if there was any doubt) that there’s life in the old game yet.
Living in Siena, Italy, on a fellowship in 1983, Young saw pictures which would help shape the direction of his artwork for years. The Italian masters helped their patrons worship God by adorning linen-covered panels with depictions of holy personae. Using a mixture of egg yolk and pigment, these artists made precisely balanced pictures in glowing colors that, at their best, seduced their viewers with the promise that they were looking at something divine.
Impressed by the luminous quality of the medium, its longevity, and the tough, flat surfaces its panels afforded, Young took up the challenge of egg tempera. Mounting Masonite board on boxlike wood frames, he put the sacred patina of the medium to work in the service of a more secular quest for transcendence. Egg tempera is no easy collaborator, however, watery, quick-drying, and generally hard to handle, it requires concise compositional planning and a very sure hand. He learned by examining the older panels and the precise pre-painting cartoon drawings of the Italian fresco painters, and began to nudge blessings from a strict but ultimately generous medium.
The results are remarkable. Young maps out the terrain of his surfaces with concise geometric shapes in highly architectural compositions. Octagons, half-circles, and rectangular blocks give an impression of order to painted realms Young fills with more fluidly rendered flowers, birds, and apparently formless fields of color. Using a palette heavy with ambers, woody reds, yellow creams, and black, Young makes meditative, ordered, abstract painted collages that keep viewers searching for one thing to see.
For there seem to be no clear subjects in these paintings. The images float puzzlingly between pictorial idioms: they employ the clean order of their Renaissance antecedents, and the subject devices of still life (flowers, containers), but their swimming surfaces appear on the brink of abstraction. Many of the pictures look as if they have been painted and repainted, then painted again as if, like his viewers, the artist himself was engaged in a struggle to decipher some secret within these frames. The surfaces themselves look cracked and brittle. In fact, Young often incises the picture surface as he composes a painting, making the image look decayed–yet more ephemeral. Mounted on cherry frames so that they seem to hover just above the wall, these paintings seem ready to evaporate even before we turn our gaze.
Since Young is more interested in picturing an ideal–beauty–rather than a thing, the object of his vision is not easily determined. Young’s artwork floats in a nether zone between the physical and spiritual which western art has found difficult to frame. And because the guidebook for such subject matter is shelved in the heart rather than the head, it’s difficult to articulate just what makes these pictures so moving. I’ll settle for saying that the experience of looking at them is much akin to what happens when, crossing the street or turning a corner, a particular stranger tugs at your view. It’s the warm hue of her cheek, perhaps, or a wee bit of sparkle in the corner of his eye. You’re not sure how it happens, but somehow, street and sidewalk disappear for a moment. You turn, look again and think, just for a second, that you’ve fallen in love.