Cover image of the review
John Young, Silent Transformations, 2019, installation view. Photo: Daniel Gardeazabal

John Young: Silent Transformations
  • Pascalle Bailey

17 Aug 2019
ARC ONE Gallery 31 Jul - 31 Aug 2019

This month a careful selection of works by artist John Young is on show in the intimate ARC ONE. Young was born in Hong Kong but is an artist frequently exhibited both locally and internationally. Young's abstract paintings appear organic and wholesome, like dappled light and blurry photographs. They are in fact the result of Young's meticulous digital reconstruction  of images translated onto linen. It is perhaps this methodical dedication in Young's practice that puts his viewers at ease. The seamless marrying of contemporary digital practice to an ancient medium is undeniably impressive.

Silent Transformations is presented in three stages, the Fairweather Transformation, Shiva and The Mute Palace, in addition to the large scale Naïve and Sentimental Painting XXII. ARC ONE promotes this new collection as 'engaging with metamorphosis and the sublime'. This translates well visually, and the Fairweather Transformations (so named after wandering artist Ian Fairweather) appear suitably obscure, the Shiva series are darker and clearer in form, evolving to the blocky collage and figuration of The Mute Palace works. The curation tells a story of the evolution of form, however but the block colour digital print and paint combination of The Mute Palace jarringly opposes its abstracted counterparts.

While an exploration in metamorphosis plays well visually, it could arguably mean these works are simply a reconfiguration of Young's previous works. His Fairweather Transformation series has been exhibited twice before, though this viewing is the first within Victoria. Naïve and Sentimental Paintings was first shown in 2006. Shiva is technically new; it presents itself as a darker evolution of the Fairweather Transformations though may have been visually inspired by Young's previous Veil and Passage series. The Mute Palace series has its foundations within Young's Double Ground Paintings. Arguably the act of recycling is essential to Young's practice: specific processing and editing of images found on the internet forms the basis of his abstract paintings.

Conceptually, Young is largely concerned with the intersections of Eastern and Western culture. It is his re-reading of late Modernism as a Western phenomenon, but from a bi-cultural viewpoint, arguably sets him apart from many abstract painters on the contemporary stage. Silent Transformations is no different, as subtle references to modernism become glaringly apparent the closer you look. Fairweather Transformation XVI, for example, becomes a contemporary reproduction of Jackson Pollock's famed Mural at a more intimate scale. Naïve and Sentimental Painting XXII gives the slightest nod to Monet's Impression, Sunrise. Arguably this subject matter packs less of a punch when viewed as a recycling on former works. The most 'original' of the exhibition, The Mute Palace works however play most effectively within this intersection.

Silent transformations functions well as a brief summation of Young's works to date. Yet as an important figure for  contemporary art in both Australia and overseas, it is definitely worth a second look.