Coinciding with SUPERSTAR at the Modern Art Museum Shanghai, the largest retrospective of British-American artist Russell Young to date, Gow Langsford Gallery presents the artist’s first solo exhibition in New Zealand. Featuring pop culture icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Brigitte Bardot, and Marlon Brando, Young sprinkles his large silkscreen canvases with fine diamond dust, creating glimmering surfaces that at once glamorise and reproach.
Born in England, Young studied photography, film and graphic design at Chester Art College. While working as an assistant for fashion photographer, Christos Raftopoulos, he established his photographic career, capturing live music and magazine editorials of the likes of The Smiths, R.E.M., and Diana Ross, which soon led to his big break: in 1986 he shot the cover of George Michael for his Grammy award-winning album Faith. His move to America in 1991 provided new opportunities, and throughout the 1990s he would direct more than 100 music videos for MTV.
Fatigued by the celebrity culture of his early career, Young began painting as a creative outlet. It is unsurprising that these paintings often critique the excess of celebrity culture. His infamous Pig Portrait series in 2003 saw mug shots of celebrity icons made larger than life. To Young, these were a direct challenge to the ‘prickly’ nature of photography itself. The works exhibited at Gow Langsford Gallery continue the artist’s commentary of the 21st century cult of celebrity, drawing on themes of desire and death, nostalgia and trauma explored in his recent 2017 New York exhibition Femme Fatales, the diamond dust sparkling from the surfaces working as a visual metaphor for the glamorisation of problematic celebrity behaviour. Alongside his glittering portraits, Young has embarked on abstract projects following a new found appreciation for colour, after the artist’s own brush with death. Contracting Swine Flu in 2010, the artist spent eight days in a coma, after which he had to relearn how to read, write, and draw.
Young could be labelled ‘artist to the stars’, with his long list of A-list clientele including Barack Obama, David Hockney, Elizabeth Taylor, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Kanye West. In a 2016 interview with The Standard, he remarks: “Brad Pitt was one of the first people to collect my work. Elizabeth Taylor came to my gallery and bought a painting of herself! David Bowie also bought my work and I was fortunate enough to get to meet him several years ago.” These sought-after works have awarded him with international recognition and he exhibits globally.