Image: Russell Young by Taylor Garcia Dickson
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Russell Young by Taylor Garcia Dickson

It is often those born without a history who feel most compelled to explore it. This is one explanation for artist Russell Young's obsession with the American Southwest. Young was adopted. He has a vague knowledge of his possible ancestry but as he sees it, there is little for him to know or tell. He does not dwell on it, rather he is empowered to create without it. 

Over the past six decades, he has made his own singular story. Through vision and ambition, he has managed to create a successful artistic career from nothing. To find home he felt compelled to go as far west as he could, ending up on the California coast, where he lives on a hillside close to the Pacific. He travels often but never feels too far away.

Young is an artist with no familial chronicles to line the shelves of his internal and external libraries, no ancestral imprints to care for, and so he has evolved without obstacles to become the voluntary keeper and interpreter of some of the most captivating and subversive images ever recorded. He holds space in his multimedia practice for the collection of some of the most spectacular images, orphaned without provenance, that float through Americana history. 

His is the act of the modern-day explorer. One that travels to investigate the semi-neglected pasts of people and cultures who challenge civilised narratives: native American chiefs and tribes whose stories have been destroyed or rewritten; lost cowboys who roam the Wild West their fates unknown; wannabe actresses on the west coast reinventing themselves over and over again making it impossible to intuit their origin. All are outsiders, tragic figures, disparate, lost and powerful. 

Young has nothing to lose in adopting the visual histories of the frequently overlooked and mystical parts of the Western world. He offers transcendence by bonding his artistic history to that of others who have been given names they did not choose, forced to conform, adapt, and/or be forgotten. With an inquisitive and unfettered lens Russell Young's practice reinvents the hyper-masculine and opaque feminine worlds that his found photographs manage to catch and release. When he discovers an image that pulls him in, he devours it, appropriates it, alters, colours, warps, translates and transforms it to such an extent it becomes something new entirely. In his work, we see the magnetic purpose of a wandering soul to create and connect lost things and people, and through this act, release infinite layers of meaning out into the multiverse.

Taylor Garcia Dickson is a native Mexican-American writer, consultant, creative director and real estate agent. She has worked in the international art world for over a decade. Most recently, she was the Director of the Dennis Hopper Art Trust in Los Angeles from 2012 to 2015, and the Membership Development Director at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson, Arizona.

25 February 2020
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