Thursday, July 28, 2011
5 Minutes With Russell Young
It was 20 years ago that British photographer Russell Young first lent his eye to celebrity culture. The assignment was photographing George Michael for the sleeve of an album called “Faith”. That job launched a career and soon Russell was shooting musicians like Morrissey, Bjork, Springsteen, Dylan, REM, New Order, The Smiths, Diana Ross, Paul Newman and many other celebrities. The next natural step was directing music videos; Russell directed a hundred music videos during the heyday of MTV.
Ten years into his career, Russell started painting, but his work remained private. Until 2003, when Young showed his first series of paintings called Pig Portraits, this first show sold out. Young has risen to be an internationally acclaimed pop artist, creating larger than life silkscreen paintings of images from history and pop culture.
“My work is sort of soundtrack to my life, loves, experiences and influences. My method of working is to search, destroy and create. The images of this series have been collected from newspaper cuttings, e-bay, long correspondence with police departments throughout the world or even given by celebrities themselves. The idea to create "anti-celebrity" portraits was probably a reaction to my former career. However, they turned out to be even more beautiful and iconic. There is undeniably this attitude that is very real, in your face, a beauty that is hard to ignore. My art is a sort of soundtrack to my life, loves, experiences and influences. These would be my heroes that are missing from Art History.”
Russell Young has risen to become one of the most collected and sought after artists of our time. Celebrities and the most discriminating collectors like Abby Rosen, the Getty's, Elizabeth Taylor, David Hockney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, David Bowie and President Barack Obama have added Russell’s works to their collections. His larger than life screenprint images from history and popular culture are compelling, daunting, and undeniable.
Russell is married to actress and presenter Finola Hughes, they have three young children Dylan, Cash and Sadie, Russell lives and works in New York and California.
Q1. What was the first record you bought and did it change your life?
Jimi Hendrix Purple Haze. My Father had just brought me a record player, this was the first record I played on it, I was 8, it blew my mind.
Q2. Early in your photographic career you shot the sleeve for George Michael's iconic “Faith” album and soon you were shooting musicians like Morrissey, Bjork, Springsteen, Dylan, REM, New Order, The Smiths, Diana Ross, Paul Newman and many other celebrities. What drew you to photographing musicians?
I thought I was going to be a War photographer, but found it almost impossible to get to into any war zone. I had always had a love of music, so it seemed an obvious choice.
Q3. From a successful photography career you began directed a hundred music videos during the heyday of MTV. Can you share a funny story from that part of your career?
I was filming a stunning girl, as she danced provocatively, one of the grips shouted out "good god I must be married to a man".
Q4. What was your inspiration for creating larger than life silkscreen paintings of images from history and pop culture and your move into the art world?
After 15 years as a photographer, I really grew tired of the unprofessionalism in the music industry.
Q5. What's next for Russell Young?
In February 2010, I was admitted to Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara and diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, the Swine Flu. I endured an 8-day induced coma with doctors and loved ones skeptical of recovery. After a three-month stay in the hospital, I emerged from his near-death experience with severe memory loss and an incredibly weak body. Little by little, I built back my strength and began examining my life and my surroundings in a whole new way. I left the hospital and I had to learn to breath, write, draw, think, and walk for the second time in my life.
During this process of recovery, I have began to explore the nature of trauma and its effect on both the individual and cultural psyche. Embracing and utilising a new more visceral and animalistic process I attacked and dissected the imagery within the canvas, resulting in a body of work that speaks of feral hope in the face of adversity. The series is called "Helter Skelter".