Russell Young British, b. 1959

Russell Young, born in 1959 in Yorkshire, is a BritishAmerican artist best known for his large-scale silkscreen paintings examining cultural icons, the nature of fame, and the souring of the American Dream. He has become one of the most collected and sought after artists of our time. Celebrities and the most discriminating collectors like Abby Rosen, the Getty’s, Elizabeth Taylor, David Hockney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, David Bowie and President Barack Obama have added Russell’s works to their collections. His larger than life screenprint images from history and popular culture are compelling, daunting, and undeniable.


Young’s early life in Northern England was neither glitz nor glamour. Young was immediately put into a foster home, then a nunnery, and was adopted before reaching the age of one. The lack of a personal or even a shared history has left him free to explore dreams and fantasies of sometimes better, sometimes harsher worlds. With few prospects other than working in the factory towns, Young lied about his age to attend art college at the age of fifteen. Had he not done so, he would have most likely moved to the streets of London and died. 


He moved to the capital five years later and caught the attention of photographer Christos Raftopoulos, whom he assisted for several years. Raftopoulos introduced Young to another side of himself, building him his own darkroom, taking him to the opera, showing him the limits of his life did not need to confine him or his work. It was during this time—still rough in nature and occasionally homeless—he photographed the gigs of Bauhaus, Bruce Springsteen,  R.E.M., Bob Dylan and Diana Ross. His innate eye for movement landed him photoshoots for magazines and eventually his first record sleeve cover for the 1986 album Faith by George Michael. He went on to shoot over 100 music videos during MTV’s height in the 1990s, which brought him to the United States.  The rock star aesthetic he had brandished in his photography lent itself to his earliest screen prints that followed in the 2000s. 


During the 1990s Young began looking beyond the limits of the photograph and started to paint seriously. In 1998 he relocated to New York, rented a studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and worked on a series of Combine Painting experiments, making assemblages of collage, found objects and street graffiti. His first solo exhibition, in Los Angeles in 2003, was an anti-celebrity series of Pig Portraits. Its uncomfortably large monochrome silkscreens, based on low-grade police booking photographs, record moments when the rich and famous fell foul of the law. However, in turning the tables on his former career they achieve a more penetrating beauty and iconic status. Established as a painter, Young, and his family moved back to the California coast, where he focused on 'action by reflection', developing ideas. The powerful, eclectic Fame+Shame series followed in 2005, documenting the fallout of cultural excess from the previous three decades - a gritty, Pop Art cocktail of America seen through the eyes of a marginalised immigrant from northern England.


Young began to use diamond dust in 2007, pressing crystals into paintings he called Dirty Pretty Things. He was drawn to the opulence of the light shimmering off the multi-faceted glass, the famous faces lost in abstract flickers of light only to re-emerge. His American Envy paintings (2009) revisit the country's counterculture but go deeper into a vortex of rebellion, hope, violence, and madness.


In 2010 Young was struck down by swine flu with severe complications. In a coma for eight days, he was not expected to survive. After a lengthy stay in hospital, he emerged from this near-death experience; during the process of recovery, he explored the effects of trauma on both the individual and the cultural psyche. 2011 saw a seminal shift in his work, embracing a more visceral artistic process Young produced the magnificent Helter Skelter series.


Young's artistic output embraces painting, screenprinting, sculpture, installations, and film. Most important to him are the titles, the crops, and the progression from darkness to light, reflecting his transition from painful early years in northern England to warmth, growth and fulfilled potential under the sunny skies of America. As his art evolves, the darks become darker, the lights bigger and brighter.


In January 2016 Young and Hughes received the Spirit of Elysium award from Dame Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler in recognition of their charitable enterprises using art as a catalyst for social change. Young's work is represented in the collections of the Polk Museum of Art in Florida, the Albertina Museum in Vienna, the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, the Saatchi Collection, Barack Obama, the Qatari royal family, Liz Taylor, Kate Moss, David Bowie, and Brad Pitt. Young has exhibited in museums and galleries in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Tokyo, Singapore, New York, Detroit, Miami, and Los Angeles.


Exhibitions of Young's major series include Pig Portraits (2003), Fame + Shame (2005), Horsepower (2007), Diamond Dust (2008), Dirty Pretty Things (2009), Diamonds are Forever (2010), American Envy (2011), Only Anarchists Are Pretty (2012), Dreamland (2013), The Fight of the Paso del Mar (2013), Helter Skelter (2014), Lost Angels (2014), his debut solo exhibition at Halcyon Gallery, London, Superstar (2016), American Landscapes (2016), Femme Fatale (2017) and NY Grenades (2018).


In late 2018, Superstar, a landmark retrospective of Young's work, opened at Modern Art Museum, Shanghai, allowing his audience to reflect on the development of a remarkable body of work spanning almost two decades of practice. Russell Young was the first American contemporary artists to ever be exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai, with his work being met with critical acclaim by its Chinese audience as well as the rest of the world with over 15,000 visitors viewing the exhibition in the opening week.