Gross | Life in Pieces – A conversation with the artist.
While putting the finishing touches on the my first gallery exhibit Gross | Life in Pieces which is showing now through June 20th at The Salvage Vanguard Theater, I had the opportunity to chat with the gallery’s curator and art aficionado Mr. Wayne Allan Brenner about the work.
Wayne Alan Brenner: Ms. Youngs, I understand this is your first solo show. Do you always enter so boldly into a situation? I mean, especially for a first gallery outing, you’re going to be displaying a ridiculous amount of works …
Dawn Youngs: I never really thought of the challenge I set for myself as a bold one. I simply had a vision and a concept and set out to achieve them. There were really two convergent ideas that brought this overall concept to life. On the one hand, I had begun working on these tiny canvases, miniature glimpses, ideas, snap shots. On the other hand, I had a vision of a single line of tiny canvases stretching around the SVT gallery space; a long thin line of color against a vast white background. I was struck by the clean crisp starkness of the idea.
I know that I do very well with concrete goals and deadlines, so I set a number for the paintings. It was in some ways arbitrary, a dozen dozen, a gross, and in some ways it was highly symbolic and metaphorical for me. Sometimes the arbitrary can become symbolic serendipitously. I named the show before I painted it, and in the naming the number was set. Originally I was thinking of the exhibit as “Gross | A Life in Pieces” which spoke pretty directly to how I was feeling about my own life at the time, but through the course of the painting what came out was something a bit more universal, so I dropped that ‘A.’ Its just life. Or rather it is all life.
The 144 canvases took me over a year to complete, but it was a year of exploration and growth. I am very happy not only with the resultant display but even more importantly with the personal journey the whole represents.
WAB: And were many of the works already completed before this exhibition was planned? Or were they all created specifically for the show?
DY: A vast majority of the work was created specifically for this show. When I had the original idea, I believe that I had about a half dozen tiny canvases already painted. A couple of those canvases are in the show, but not all of them. The remainders of the 144 pieces (probably about 140) were painted with this exhibit in mind. Around the time that the idea of the exhibit was first born, I had recently interviewed the artist Will Klemm for an article about his own exhibit at the Wally Workman Gallery. Will encouraged me to take myself seriously and offered me some excellent guidance. One of the things he encouraged me to do was to paint every day, and that was a big part of the inspiration for this show.
On a side note, which is funny to me, Will paints amazing huge canvases. The play of light and the vibrant colors of them really inspire me. They are very beautiful. He really encouraged me to step back and use a larger brush. To move my hand back on the brush (I tend to hold the brush tight and low). By setting this particular challenge for myself, I rather subverted that part of his teaching! Maybe the next challenge has to be a series of 4 foot by 4 foot paintings.
Now that would be bold!
WAB: Is there an overarching theme to the exhibition?
DY: In the very early stages of painting, there was no solid theme in my mind. I had the title and I had a goal to work with, but no overarching theme. As the work progressed, it began to focus, primarily driven by my own preferences and developing style. In order to complete this volume of work, I needed to sit down to paint as often as possible. There was no option for waiting for the gift of inspiration. So I painted the beauty around me, and collected photographs of the things that inspired me whenever I found them and used those images as a source. For instance, I was doing a show last summer called Circus Girl, which performed in a warehouse out by the Blue Genie and the old Blue Theater. On the fence outside the theater there was an amazing morning glory plant in bloom the weekend that we loaded that show in. I was so impressed by the flowers, their brilliant blue, the lightness of them, I wanted to capture that. I took a dozen pictures. You will see me working on that piece over and over again. I really struggled to get it the way I wanted it. I feel like I succeeded with some aspects of the feeling of those flowers in each of the studies, but the totality of it was eluding me. Eventually the larger composite painting came out. I think there is probably a source for one of those four foot by four foot pieces in there.
WAB: From what sources, thematically or stylistically, are your inspirations drawn?
DY: My inspiration is primarily drawn from nature. You will see flowers, trees, and landscapes repeated over and over again throughout the work. I think even the abstracts and decorative pieces in the exhibit have a natural and organic feel to them. My husband and I live on a small ranch in the Hill Country, and we are working toward self-sufficiency. That project is known as Spooky Action Ranch. I spend a lot of time in the garden, and I think that is reflected in the work. One of the things that we often remark upon while working in the garden is how transformative it can be to truly get close to the earth. We don’t mean this metaphorically, but rather literally. Getting your hands dirty. There are a lot of images inspired by this close up and personal view of the tiny life that thrives around us.
There are two masters of whom I have long been a fan, and they are Georgia O’Keeffe and Vincent Van Gogh. I really love the clean curves, the light, and the themes in O’Keefe’s work and I am inspired by the texture and imaginative use of color in the Van Gogh. I don’t want to imitate either of these artists, but I enjoy allowing their perspective and their individuality inspire me.
WAB: Will there be prints of any of the pieces available, or is this an exclusive show of originals?
There will absolutely be prints available. I am happy to make prints of any of the images that strike the viewers’ fancy. I have already produced a run of prints of some of my favorite images, and am matting them. I also have a framing concept for them, and hope to have some of them framed soon. I am really enjoying how the prints look, the complexity and texture of the work really caries through, and matted and framed as I see them, they really make a very distinctive display.
I have also experimented with enlarging the prints to 12” x 12”. They look pretty awesome, if I do say so myself, and I am looking into mattes and frames for them as well.
I have also been contemplating creating sets of notecards from the work, and smaller more traditional magnets. I think there will be a great variety of ways for people to enjoy the art. I encourage anyone who is interested in it to get in touch with me. I am open to other uses for the work.
I also have plans to frame the originals for anyone who is interested in a more traditional hanging of them. Anyone who is interested should drop me a note a take a stroll through my Etsy store.