Russell Young, whose latest exhibition has just opened at Maddox Gallery’s new Berkeley Street gallery in Mayfair, has long been fascinated by fame and celebrity. Not in a “what is that thing Kim Kardashian’s wearing” kind of way but as a strange and double-edged by-product of film and music.
His new show, Dreamland, is a continuation of his long-standing exploration of what lies beneath the gloss of fame – the glittering diamond-dust surfaces of his paintings nod to this – where seduction, beauty, desire, envy and emptiness lurk. “Los Angeles was the flame, and I was the moth,” he says. “I was drawn to it (LA, celebrity, fame) for many years. I like the duality of fame and shame.”
This latest body of work takes as its basis instantly recognisable photographs of screen and music icons – unseen works featuring Brigitte Bardot and Jimi Hendrix are joined by a series of imposing new protagonists: The Beatles, Mick Jagger and Kate Moss, captured at the height of their fame by the almost equally legendary photographers Terry O’Neill and Gered Mankowitz.
His interest is the darker side of fame – which may be why his collectors include the likes of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, David Bowie, Drake, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Many of them have seen it for themselves.
Regarding his piece Marilyn Crying, a large scale image of Marilyn Monroe, Young says, “she looks stunning, but that is a small section of a huge photograph. In the original you can see paparazzi, there’s a car and her lawyer in the background; it’s pure chaos!
"Marilyn had just come out of the divorce court having finalised her divorce to Joe DiMaggio and to me, that’s the perfect story. The deeper you delve into an image, the bigger the story is, and I wanted to capture Marilyn's beauty & pain in that moment.”
Young takes these images, appropriates them, and transforms them. Despite their glossy sheen, these are resolutely handmade works; Young uses hand-pulled canvas or linen and prints with Warhol’s silkscreen technique, using paints mixed himself from pigments he has gathered from all over the world. Each work in any given series is then unique.
His palette is often that of sun-drenched of California, where he has made his home and established himself as an artist. He may investigate the souring of the American Dream, but he’s well and truly living his own. But this body of work is a homecoming of sorts. “In Dreamland, I have come back home to England,” he says. “I’m looking inward and looking for inspiration. At some point, I think every artist does this and it’s the period I’m in currently. Kate Moss, Mick Jagger, The Beatles, they all speak to a time and memory of being home and what home represents.”
Russell Young: Dreamland is at Maddox Gallery, Berkeley Street, until February 7