The University of Queensland Art Museum has recently acquired a work by Australian artist, John Young.
John Young’s ‘Moment’ series (2015) is influenced in equal parts by his cross-cultural background and his training in Western art and philosophy. The series consists of six paintings based on a range of visual references, including the work of Scottish/Australian artist Ian Fairweather (1891–1974).1 Young created the artworks using an innovative process that he first developed in 2006. He has programmed his computer to source images from the Internet within set visual parameters, and to transform these pictures into abstract compositions. From a selection of random possibilities, Young chooses a single image that he believes has ‘an interesting resonance’, and then faithfully paints the work with oil on linen.2 The method, which he has coined ‘the human-computer friendship,’ melds contemporary technology with the age-old, manual techniques of oil painting. This somewhat arbitrary process allows Young to select images that share what he considers to be universally appealing aesthetic qualities. He acknowledges that his paintings resemble, for example, works by Western artists such as Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944), Mark Rothko (1903–1970) and Gerhard Richter (1932–) and abstract ink paintings by Chinese masters.3
In Moment III Young has created a smooth surface that mimics the texture of a digital print, punctuating the canvas with small patches of pale blue paint that show evidence of his brushwork. The computer-generated image on which Young’s work is based was sourced from Ian Fairweather’s Pelléas et Mélisande, a semi-abstract painting of two nudes. Fairweather, who Young has described as ‘the most important artist of the Antipodes’ sought cultural and philosophical challenges throughout his life. His work, like Young’s, is emblematic of a cultural exchange between Australia and Asia.4 The title of Fairweather’s painting refers to a Symbolist play of the same name by Maurice Maeterlinck (1862–1949), which Claude Debussy (1862–1918) later adapted as an opera (1902). Ostensibly a love story, the narrative explores themes of creation and destruction. Young takes up these ideas in his painting. The process of renewal, in which the past is destroyed through the creation of new images, may be read as a metaphor for Young’s own migratory experiences.
(Adapted from text prepared by Emily Poore, Curatorial Assistant, September 2015.)
JOHN YOUNG ZERUNGE was born in Hong Kong in 1956 and moved to Australia in 1967.
Young read philosophy of science and aesthetics at the University of Sydney and then studied painting and sculpture at Sydney College of the Arts.Young’s investigation of Western late modernism prompted significant phases of work from a bi-cultural viewpoint, including series of paintings in the last three decades – the Silhouette Paintings, ThePolychrome Paintings, the Double Ground Paintings and the Abstract Paintings.
Young has devoted a large part of his three-decade career towards regional development in Asia, and has participated in many regional group travelling exhibitions including Asialink’s Art from Australia: Eight Contemporary Views, (1991, South East Asian museums),Transcultural Painting (1994-5, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong), Systems End (1996, Japan and Korea) and Antipodean Currents (1995 USA). Young has regular solo exhibitions in Australia and also shows in Berlin and Hong Kong. Young was also seminal in establishing in 1995 the Asian Australian Artists’ Association (Gallery 4A), now the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, a centre for the promotion of Asian philanthropy and the nurturing of Australasian artists and curators.
Recently Young’s work has focused on transcultural humanitarianism including projects entitled Bonhoeffer in Harlemand Safety Zone. Bonhoeffer in Harlem, a tribute to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was installed at St. Matthaus Church, Berlin in 2009, and recreated in Bamberg, Germany in 2013 as part of the city’s celebrations of its 1000-year-old history. Safety Zone, a tribute to 21 foreigners who saved the lives of 300,000 citizens during the ‘Rape of Nanjing’ in 1937, was exhibited at the University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane in 2011 and ANU Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra in 2013.
In 2005-06, a survey exhibition covering 27 years of works was held at the TarraWarra Museum of Art, Victoria, curated by Maudie Palmer. A second survey exhibition, The Bridge and the Fruit Tree,covering works from 2000-2012 was exhibited in February-March 2013 at Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University, Canberra. Three separate monographs have been written on John Young’s works and projects by Dr. Graham Coulter-Smith (1993, Schwartz City Publications); Dr. Carolyn Barnes and William Wright AM (2005, Craftsman House, Thames & Hudson); and Dr Carolyn Barnes, Professor Jacqueline Lo and Terence Maloon (Australian National University Drill Hall Gallery).
(Courtesy Arc One Gallery, Melbourne)