Alan Young was was born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1980 and came to Tasmania with his family in 1987. He completed his tertiary study at UTAS (Hobart Campus) and graduated with a Master of Fine Art (Research). In 2005, he won the Moorilla scholarship, funded by Mona and in 2007 was awarded an artist-in-residence studio at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne.
He lived in Melbourne from 2007 to 2009 and is now living and working in Hobart.
“A view in Alan Young’s work emerges in a way that no one else brings to the game.” – Ray Hughes.
A well-known party game requires each player to guess the name written on a piece of paper behind his or head. By asking questions like “am I a singer?”, “is my boyfriend a soccer player?”, and so on, I try to deduce the identity that I am, that I’ve been given, for the purposes of the game. We encounter something quite similar in Alan Young’s recent paintings.
To begin with, of course, it’s important for the game that the names must be the names of famous celebrities, or at least of figures known to everyone taking part. The players take on the identities of people who exist in the public eye. Isn’t there something of the same effect of exposure in the figures that Young paints? Composed entirely of abstract shapes, they have a schematic, x-rayed quality, as if we could tell everything there is to know about them just by looking. On the other hand, if it really is true that we see straight away what they are, if we somehow “read” them at least as easily as we read the titles of the pictures in which they appear, then they themselves are nonetheless caught in a literal struggle for self-definition. What actually is there to distinguish them from the surrounding space? The lines Young paints are not exactly contours, but rather dashed or inflated strokes of colour. His forms don’t delimit coloured areas, but are themselves subject to coloristic tensions. Where an intense red meets a bright green, we get a purely differential horizon: not a boundary that encloses space, but an almost hallucinatory vibration. This might explain why many of his figures seem to look out at us with such consternation. Unable to fix their place in relation to others, their mask-like faces solicit us like a string of anxious questions: “am I a house?”, “is my boyfriend a chair?”. . .
Does this hold for the two figures in the painting titled Couple, however? It doesn’t seem farfetched to imagine that they know all too well that that’s what they are – a couple. What they don’t seem to know is why. Here we should probably also take into account the second rule of the guessing-game, which is quite significant in its own way. Because the players are only allowed to ask questions that can be answered with a yes or a no, there is an effective prohibition on any question as to why I am (or am not) what the game says I am. I can’t ask for what reason my identity takes the shape it does. And it’s as though, under the pressure of this prohibition, such questions are driven underground, where they take on fantastic subterranean forms.
In Night Life, one figure looks straight ahead, at us, while his counterpart stares directly into him, with a series of dashed lines between them indexing something apparently more intense than any ordinary communication. Young’s paintings often present us with two figures, and it’s tempting to suppose that, ultimately, every one of his subjects is potentially haunted by its doppelgänger. In reality, the point for the people watching the game is not so much the accuracy or otherwise of the players’ deductions. The point, what makes the game fun, is the strange images their questions evoke for us of the people they think they might be. Nor is Young so much concerned with putting a single message across in his paintings. The face in Mr. Bird is abstracted to a degree that casts doubt on any one-to-one correspondence between the title and the subject. Is it literally a bird? Is Mr. Bird a person? Or should we be looking for something else in the picture, something that would not be exhausted by either of those possibilities? What about the painting, Cemetery? Does its title simply establish a location? Or is it in some way metaphorical, conveying something more fundamental about the figure depicted? The titles effectively redouble the pictures, making us look at them again, as if in the hope that a second look could explain the mismatch between what we see and what we read. For this reason Night Life, with its mysterious exchange between two figures, might be taken as a kind of allegory. Conjured by the very inconsistency of the subject’s attempts at self-definition, the double is the figure who knows me better than I know myself, seeing not only what I am, but also why what I am escapes me.
Maybe, along these lines, the true subject of Mr. Ha Ha is not the laughing figure with “HA” written on his face, but actually the small worried-looking figure at his feet: the laughing figure isn’t named by the painting’s title, but embodies it directly. And what does this laughter of his imply, if not a rather unpleasant complicity with us, the viewers? Although the humour in Young’s paintings is unmissable, they don’t necessarily make us laugh – unlike the celebrity guessing-game, which generally brings about all kinds of of hilarity. Is there an element of cruelty in laughter? Why is it that the game’s viewers are so often tempted to supplement their simple yes-no answers with cryptic and even somewhat snide comments (“it depends on what you mean by ‘a singer’, ha ha ha. . .”)? If it’s never entirely clear whether the joke is on the actual person of the players, or on the celebrities whose place they occupy, this is because it’s the absurdity of the very discord between the two that strikes us as funny. Yet, by including the laughter itself in the painting, Mr. Ha Ha pushes this logic to an unsettling consequence. Far from making jokes, a truly sadistic viewer would have insisted fixedly on the rules of the game, coldly replying yes or no and simply observing the players’ helplessness as, with their confused questions, they effectively mock themselves. There is no need to laugh, from this perverse viewpoint. The figures’ doubles laugh at them for us.
But what about those pictures that don’t show us any doubles? Young’s single-figure paintings bring out an important last paradox in his work. We might wish to see Mr. Car for example as a sort of street-map, offering an abstract overhead view of the kind usually given on a GPS display. But the impassive sense of distance this affords us is collapsed the moment we see that, simultaneously, we are looking at the features of a face. From an objective, bird’s-eye shot, we dissolve to an aggressive close-up: wild-eyed, mouth open and distorted as if yelling, Mr. Car bears down on us, threatening to fill the entire space. With other paintings, such as In the Bush and House Dude, the effect is the opposite: the figure draws back, as if aghast, or throws up its hands in defence. In both cases, the very impression of overproximity is a clue to the function of doubling. If Mr. Car clearly depicts only one figure, it must be for the precise reason that we, the viewers, confront that figure from the perspective of his double. We look back at the House Dude through the eyes of the sublime figuration that he “is”. Is it necessary to add that the view we thereby assume, the view that thus emerges, suggests the exact opposite of the guessing-game’s usual set-up? It’s no longer the figure in front of us, but we ourselves who suddenly occupy another person’s place – which means, finally, that it is we who are now led to ask some perplexing questions: “How can I be sure, when I look at a painting, that the view I bring to it really is my own?”, “And yet what if, at the same time, it belongs to no one else?”. “Am I a double?”
Contemporary art is so often put in the position of a thing supposed to ask us questions – questions to which we are typically content to respond with a simple yes or no. Perhaps we’d be better off asking first of all what it is that we want from art, and what is the nature of the game we’re playing. This is what accounts for the basically ethical character of Young’s paintings: he doesn’t prohibit that question.
– Chris Arneaud-Clarke
Living and working in Hobart, Tasmania
2005 Master of Fine Art (Research) University of Tasmania (Hobart)
2002 Bachelor of Fine Arts (Hons ) University of Tasmania (Hobart )
1999-01 Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting ) University of Tasmania (Hobart )
2015 Australian Council Project Grant
2012 Winner, Bay of Fires Art Prize, judged by Glenn Barkley, Professor Marie
Sierra and Robert Owen
Artsbridge Grant for Travel, Arts Tasmania
2011-12 Professional Development Grant, Arts Tasmania.
Artist in Residence, Arts Tasmania, 146 Elizabeth Street, Hobart
Artist in Residence, at Mission, NG Gallery, Chippendale, NSW
2007-08 Artist in Residence, St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne
2007 Winner, Burnie Art Prize, Anesthetist’s Award
2005-06 MONA Scholarship, Tasmania
2004 NAVA artists grant, for exhibition at Carnegie Gallery, Hobart
1998 Winner, Elizabeth College Hobart, Product Dynamics Art Prize
2017 University of Queensland National Self-portrait Prize (By invitation)
2016 Fleurieu Food and Wine Prize, South Australia
R and M McGivern Prize, Ringwood Victoria
2015 Lloyd Rees Art Prize, Colville Gallery, Hobart
2014 Glover Art Prize, Evandale, Tasmania
Kogarah Art Prize, NSW
Gold Coast Art Prize, Gold Coast Arts Centre Queensland
Fisher’s Ghost Art Award, Campbelltown, NSW
2013 Semi-finalist, Doug Moran National Portrait Prize
Paddington Art Prize, Sydney
Hobart City Art Prize, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery Hobart
Lloyd Rees Memorial Art Prize, Colville Gallery Hobart
2012 Redlands Art Awards, Queensland
AAA National Art Prize, Sydney
2011 Agendo Art Prize, Emerging Artists under 35, Hellier Gallery, Melbourne
Muswellbrook Art Prize, Muswellbrook Regional Art Centre, NSW
Casella Art Prize, Griffith Regional Art Gallery, Griffith, NSW
2010 Off The Wall, Emerging Artist Showcase, Art Melbourne
Calleen Art Prize, Cowra Regional Gallery, NSW
2009 Publishers’ Cup Cricket Art Prize, Sydney Cricket Ground
Poimena Art Award, Art Gallery, Launceston Church Grammar School
Brett Whiteley Travelling Scholarship, Brett Whiteley Studio, Sydney
Williamstown Contemporary Art Prize, Substation Arts Centre, Melbourne
Archangel Art Prize, St Michael’s School, St Kilda, Melbourne
2008 Brett Whiteley Travelling Scholarship, Brett Whiteley Studio, Sydney
Williamstown Contemporary Art Prize, Substation Arts Centre, Melbourne
2007 Lloyd Rees Memorial Youth Art Award, Centrehouse, Lane Cove, NSW
Agendo Art Prize, Emerging Artists under 35, Gardener Gallery, Melbourne
2006 Brett Whiteley Travelling Scholarship, Brett Whiteley Studio, Sydney
Fletcher Jones Contemporary Art Prize, Geelong Gallery, Geelong, Victoria
2005 Hobart City Art Prize, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Selected Solo Exhibitions
2018 New Works = Alan Young, Colville Gallery, Hobart
2017 Editing the Landscape, Colville Gallery, Hobart
2016 Dance, Moonah Arts Centre, Hobart
2015 Dance Like Everybody is Watching, Sawtooth ARI, Launceston.
2014 Young and Modern, Ray Hughes Gallery, Surry Hills, NSW
Extra Sensory, LARQ Gallery, Queenstown, Tasmania
2013 Persona, Top Gallery Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart, Tasmania
2012 One of a Kind, Gallery Parnella, St Helens, Tasmania
Upbeat 146 Arts Space, Arts Tasmania, Hobart
Mapping, Ray Hughes Gallery, Surry Hills, NSW
2011 Neighbourhood, Wallspace, Arts Tasmania, Hobart Stories, Red Wall Gallery, Republic Bar, Hobart
2008 One of a Kind, Victoria Park Gallery, ARI, Melbourne
2007 Nobody’s Perfect, Despard Gallery, Hobart
2006 Wine, Dance, Song, Moorilla Scholarship Exhibition, TMAG, Hobart
2005 MFA Submission, Plimsoll Gallery, Hobart
2003 Drawings, Entrepot Gallery Hobart New Paintings, Red Wall Gallery, Hobart
Selected Group Exhibitions
2017 Edition 2, Penny Contemporary Gallery, Hobart
Glover in Arcadia, The Barn, Ronsy Farm, Hobart
National Self Portrait Prize, University Queensland, Finalist
Annual Artists Show Coville Gallery, Hobart
2016 Heritage Month, Clarendon House, Evansdale, Tasmania
2013 Life’s a Beach, Ray Hughes Gallery
2012 Jun Chen and Gallery artists Sydney and stock shows, Ray Hughes Gallery
2009 Something I Said, Helen Gory Gallery, Melbourne
2007 Collecting for Tasmania 11, Devonport Regional Gallery
2016 Gallery sign, Contemporary Art Tasmania, Hobart.
2014 Courtyard Design, Contemporary Art Tasmania, Hobart
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Devonport Regional Art Gallery
MONA, St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne. Ray Hughes Collection, Sydney
2015 Mary Machen, Artist in Tune with Dancing, The Examiner, November7
2014 Anna Johnson, Young and Modern, Sydney Morning Herald.01/02
Lucy Hawthorne, Extra Sensory, Tas Wrap, Art Collector. Issue 68
Jason Thomas, Home is where the art is, The Advocate, 27/05 p24
Glen Barkley& Raymond Arnold, Extra Sensory Catalogue.
2012 Arts Hub Alan Young wins the first Bay of Fires Art Prize, 10/06
Cherie Cooper, Art Prize Winner Inspired to Tell Stories. UTAS magazine
2010 James Makin, Off the Wall Art Melbourne, Catalogue.