For Laurence Young, each painting is a journey into the unknown. “What I put on the canvas first has nothing to do with what I’m going to do later,” he says. “I have no idea where I’m going when I start.”
Young begins his canvases with a background, which can be anything, even leftover paint on his palette from his last painting. It’s just something to cover the canvas and prime her emotional response to the materials that will fuel her process.
Next is the line, in charcoal or oil pastel, arguably the most important element of his work, although Young insists he is a colourist. Young doesn’t draw the line, except on rare occasions. Finally, close value colors are applied side by side. This technique, although similar to the way the Impressionists apply complementary colors next to each other, gives more subtlety. Colors are applied and scraped, applied and scraped, until a paint is revealed.
While Young’s paintings start from a place of uncertainty, he has always been confident in his desire to be a full-time artist. He was born in Newton Center.
“It was the 1950s and very rural, not built like today, and the only caution was to look both ways when crossing the street,” he says. As a child, he cherished trips to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with his mother and art classes. “In general, I made a mess, but I enjoyed it,” he says. “That’s pretty much what I still do today: mess up the canvas.” In high school, he hung out in the art room and the theater department.
After high school he went to the University of Hartford for a degree in arts education, then a three-year stint as an art teacher in elementary school. “I loved teaching, but it was a stepping stone,” he says. He was accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design as an engraver. “I love the graphic nature of the print,” he says. “I love the process and the simplification, playing with illusion and space on a two-dimensional surface. To this day, Joseph Albers is my go-to man when I’m stuck, and a lot of his work is screen printing. Putting it all together made sense at the time.
After graduating, Young landed in New York City and started his own business, Young Ideas, a design firm specializing in women’s sportswear that also served clients such as Care Bears and American Greetings. He always printed when he could, but he says the work was inconsistent.
Then the AIDS epidemic struck. “I was completely blown away,” Young says. “I sold my business and it became my starting capital to paint full time. Everyone said I was crazy. With the onset of AIDS, I reassessed my life and felt it was time for a change.
Young returned to Boston and commuted to Provincetown. “I bought a very small place to sleep,” he says. “In the end, I ended up moving here. He is now locally represented by Ray Wiggs Gallery.
Although experienced in the commercial world, Young arrived in Provincetown without any real fine art skills. “My background was mainly graphic design and printmaking,” he says. “I didn’t have a lot of drawing skills, and the little painting I did was acrylic, so I got into oil painting as a self-taught artist. I started working on PAAM’s open anatomy drawing and grew into a pretty accomplished person who knew how to draw. It was a struggle, but the drawing helped the painting.
Young notes the unspoken hierarchy in the art world. “The oil painting is at the top and somewhere at the bottom are watercolors,” he says. “I kept the graphics, drawing and painting separate for years. It was a purist attitude. But when Young took a workshop with Provincetown painter Cynthia Packard, the trajectory of her art changed.
“Here’s everything I was looking for,” he said. “She combined line, composition and color. Suddenly I see this person who takes these pieces that I’m good at and puts them together and I ask, “Why not? Packard’s influence is clearly visible in Young’s work, with Austrian painter Egon Schiele and printmaker Käthe Kollwitz, whom he sees as inspirations.
Free from academia, Young developed a style of his own. “The real challenge is deciding what to play with on the web,” he says. “I don’t paint what or how other people paint. I get bored easily and what keeps my work consistent is the way I approach it. I paint my truth.