World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 110 - Debbie Young
I saw Debbie Young for the first time when the Piket Awards were presented at the Theater aan het Spui in The Hague. She was the winner of one of three grand awards: her being the award for painting. Attached to that was an amount of 8,000 euros and a sculpture by Anneke Schat.
Shortly after I spoke to Debbie in Gallery Vonkel. There is an exhibition of her work under the title ‘6 DAYS SOBER’. Since she graduated at the Royal Academy of Arts, summer 2016, she has known little peace. The ball started rolling with a self-organised group exhibition, A PURSUIT OF THE UNGRASPABLE, with three fellow artists, Doris Hardeman, Anne Lotte Peperkamp and Katerina Sidorova - also just graduated - in Electron Breda. Following this her work was to be seen at Art The Hague, and subsequently she was nominated on behalf of painting for the Piket Award, an award for artists under 30, and she ended up winning.
The human being and his behavior
The ball has clearly not rolled out for this artist who is originally from Glasgow, Scotland. There she studied psychology, but her heart went to the arts and it turned out that she could invest her interest in the nature of man and behavior in that too. She is extremely curious about people. She looks at it from the existential point of view. Man is free. He/she can make decisions for him/herself on how to live. Yet it is in a broader context.
You might think it would lead to the realm of politics. She responds in her work to a variety of contemporary issues, but she doesn’t think like a politician. “It’s about the universe, the modern era and how we as humans can digest political decisions.” That she does with a lot of humor. Debbie Young: “I do not like an artist who takes himself too seriously.”
She has a preference for what she calls ‘odd humor’, black humor. She likes to play with clichés and she does that through layered work, in which she combines realistic images with plaster, photos, epoxy and strange characters. Often there is shown a grid. Why does she bring this element in?
“A grid is a facade, there’s something behind it. I’m very curious about what is behind the grid, also in political / metaphorical sense. Politics for instance functions as a grid, there is all kinds of everything going on that you do not see. But suddenly there is an eruption. The facade holds no more. Then you see just what’s really going on, and more often than not it’s an unpleasant sight. I think it’s my job to challenge politics in such a trivial time. Also in a literal sense. In Glasgow there are a lot of buildings whose facades are extremely beautiful, but inside are almost falling apart. These buildings have so much potential to be transformed and maintained. But that does not happen.”
She attaches great importance to intuition. “I use my full intuitive potential without excluding a rational message. As an artist, you are indeed in the world to think and to question things.” She does so with a lot of energy. “Even if I’m not working, I’m still working on my art. Thinking about it 24 hours a day. But every time I attempt something new, so it will also be inspiring for me.”
‘Renaissance of the Decadents’, was a project created at the Royal Academy. That work is her key work, she says. “It served as a game-changer. For this work I went back to painting more realistically again. While working on this piece, I decided to get started as free as possible. I needed to be honest - otherwise it doesn’t communicate anything to the viewer. I let it all loose: cadres, blueprints, schematics. Because it has to be fun. It is as much about the process.”
One of the components was called ‘The Flowers of Evil’, thanks to Baudelaire. “Baudelaire and ‘The picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde inspired me to create a work that would physically rot and have a life cycle of life of its own. How can you record the cycle of life, with its inevitable decline, in a piece? A piece of art also has its own process, it does not exist for ever.”
All her works seem to have something temporary. “It looks impulsive, as if it is thrown together. Indeed, I have not really thought about conservation, but maybe I should do that in the future, if the work is going ‘travel’. Anyway, Anselm Kiefer and Dieter Roth were also faced with this problem. I really love the work of the Germans in the sixties.”
Not only temporality is a theme, but also expressiveness. In particular in response tot the non-expressiveness that the digital media brought with them. “There are so many emotions being expressed in the world right now, which is a reason that I decided to reflect that. Everything is hyperbolysed by the media and filters downwards. Today’s technology harms the experience of life. People just sit behind their screen and lose contact, even with themselves. It produces more stress, anxiety, depression. The digital normality is enforced. And people who are or will be too agitated, with ADHD for example, are held under control by medication. It seems to me very well if people experience themselves again as a physical entity.”
She also made an installation on the occasion of the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014. “I wanted to show the absurdity of the arguments from both camps, the Yes and the No. The debate went beyond all proportions, it became aggressive, even violent, the country was divided. The Braveheart syndrome popped up, even religion (Catholic-Protestant) and football-related prejudice were brought in. It was fighting for the sake of fighting. I transformed a space in KABK in an arena with a YES-side and a NO-side, to illustrate the absurdity.”
A bucket of water
Why did she actually call her exhibition ‘6 DAYS SOBER’? Debbie: “For two reasons. The first is a commentary on the art world. Artists have the reputation of drinking a lot, especially on openings/ vernissages/a coping mechanism/generally enjoying life, that’s the idea anyway. Secondly, it is a commentary on today’s hectic times unfolding before us: with Trump, Brexit, the referendums. This exhibition wants - in the middle of the political turmoil - to throw a bucket of water in your face, so you will wake up and become sober to all the nonsense.”