The selfie has been a cultural fascination for centuries. From the early cave painters at Lascaux to today’s camera-toting/Instagram culture, we are consumed with preserving self-depictions.
Although most people’s homes are filled with pictures of themselves and family members, the power of portraiture is often marginalized. Austin Young’s appreciation for his subjects reveals itself to be unparalleled. He crafts photos that fully embody his muses and shed light upon the accessories and the soul of life.
Growing up in the doldrums of Reno, Nevada, Young turned to records to break up the monotony of his sleepy, small-town life. “My father gave me a camera when I was younger,” he professes. “He was also a photography enthusiast, so I started taking pictures of all of my friends.”
Finding pop-culture as a source of inspiration, the developing artist would sit in his room, ingraining the larger-than-life likenesses of icons like Debbie Harry and Siouxsie Sioux into his brain. He channeled a Warhol-like fascination in the God-esque portrayals of celebrities, which in turn illuminated a lifelong passion—a love of iconography.
“Living near Las Vegas, I used to beg my parents to take me to concerts,” Young tells. “I saw Olivia Newton John and Sonny and Cher,”
Exposure to a world that existed outside the confines of Reno titillated the young man. So, he moved to big cities and traveled the world, from Paris to LA. Young made a name for himself by encapsulating subcultures along the way—generating renderings of drag queens, performance artists, and the like. Living in New York in the early ‘90s, he often would visit various clubs to capture its life. Yet, portraits evolved from his experiments. He felt their intimacy would resonate no matter what content one portrays. “It’s a big responsibility to be a portrait artist because you have to capture someone in a way that represents them,” Young elaborates.
With several compelling bodies of work, Young’s work makes social commentary, too, like with gender stereotypes. His pieces subvert the traditional constructs society has set forth. Instead, he illustrates genderless subjects.“[It] really calls into question our concept of beauty and identity,” he describes.
Although simple, his photos reflect a bonding relationship between a model and photographer, each artists in their own rights. He highlights the reflective nature ably allowing him to reveal the complexities and emotions of his muse. Through his collaborative “Tranimal Workshops,” he gathers artists, participants, and various materials in both gallery and museum spaces. Models, transgenders or otherwise, are invited to transform into art themselves, whether they morph into a creature straight from Chernobyl or pose in a Glamour Shot fashion, but have a raven growing from a black beehive.
In addition to his portraiture, Young is the co-founder of the art group, Fallen Fruit. With fellow artists David Burns and Matias Viegener, he began mapping fruit trees that were growing over public property in LA. The collaboration has expanded to include public projects, site-specific installations and happenings in various international cities. Although his work for this collective centers on fruit, Young’s whimsical muses, eye for color and post-modern pop-art style remain evident.
Young’s photographs have not only caught the attention of the art world, but also local photographers and gallery owners of Salt, Kelly Starbuck and Horace Long. Featuring a small retrospective of Young’s work, “Portraits” is his first solo art show in North Carolina.
Long has been a fan of Young’s work for years. “I have guided him through images to curate this exhibition,” Long proclaims. “I have known [Young] for many years, and I’ve always been drawn to his work—even before I knew him—for its pop and subculture references. He documents the famous and infamous in a style that is distinctively [his own].”
Through his specific style, Young has produced photographs of Debbie Harry from Blondie, Siouxsie Sioux, Margaret Cho, Leigh Bowery, Tori Spelling, Sandra Bernhard, almost all of the “Rupaul’s Drag Race” queens, and hundreds more.
This exhibition will open with a reception on April 25th from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and will be on display through May 17th. S.A.L.T. Studio is located in the historic Modern Baking Building.
Photographs by Austin Young
S.A.L.T. Studio • 805 N. 4th St.
Reception: April 25th, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Mon. – Fri., 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Hangs through May 17th