Magazine article Southwest Art

Painting Nature's Order

Magazine article Southwest Art

Painting Nature's Order

Article excerpt

WHEN NOT AT HIS EASEL, CHRISTOPHER YOUNG iS more likely to be found reading physics textbooks than art primers. "I'm fascinated by the way things are put together," the 37-yearold Utah painter says. "I'm intrigued with the idea of distilling complicated objects down to their essence."

Young may mull over abstract intellectual concepts like fractal geometry and chaos theory or pore through dense titles such as Consilience and Metapatterns, but his paintings reflect a clarity of purpose that is anything but obscure. His style incorporates a blend of still life, portraiture, landscape, and Japanese art into a recognizable whole. And while some viewers find unintended meanings in his compositions-seeing symbolism in an apple or a twig or a bug-most recognize the restful, calm undertones. "People pause and meditate before my paintings," he says. "In my own way, I celebrate nature's order. If you were to make me describe myself, I'd say I'm a painter of natural order."

A native of Provo, UT, who still lives nearby, Young grew up roaming the oak-lined canyons and open fields around his neighborhood, developing an appreciation for the natural world and science. He showed talent as an artist early on, but the offer of an engineering scholarship to nearby Brigham Young University steered him in a different direction. In 1982, Young interrupted his studies to complete a twoyear stint in Japan on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There, he discovered the Eastern aesthetic and experienced a transformation in his world view. "Everything from the art to the architecture and gardens was beautifully designed and simplified; the Japanese have a different take on realism than we do. From paper to wood to stone, they surround themselves with natural things that are reflected in their art."

Upon his return to college, Young switched majors from chemical engineering to mechanical engineering to industrial design. But he couldn't escape his interest in art, painting Japanese-inspired scenes of birds' nests, roses, and bundled sticks in his spare time. Simultaneously, he enrolled in etching and calligraphy classes. When he found himself devoting more time to a half-credit art class than to his required science coursework, Young faced the inevitable and changed majors once again. In 1987, he graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree. "Some of my mentors pointed out that the goal of life is to do what you most enjoy, and I realized that nothing gives me the same charge as painting," he says.

Given his broad interests and educational background, Young is understandably reluctant to make what he considers spurious distinctions between art and science. "Since I was a kid, I've found that drawing forced me to look at patterns in things. At first glance, a pinecone or a nautilus shell can seem complicated to draw, but after looking at it for a while you begin to perceive basic patterns. Once you get past the seeming chaos, an interrelatedness becomes apparent."

During his college years, Young was fortunate to receive tutelage from a number of Brigham Young University's bestknown instructors, including fantasy artist James Christensen and printmaker Wayne Kimball. He says he was lucky, also, to be introduced to Dave and Connie Katz, owners of Coda Gallery in Park City, UT, and Palm Springs, CA, where his paintings have been exhibited for more than 10 years. "Dave and Connie saw my final show at BYU and liked my work. They made it easy for me to move into the business end of art when I didn't know anything about it."

Contemporary as his work is, Young's approach is unwaveringly traditional. He begins a painting using classical proportions and measurements. Next he works out the composition in the drawing stage and then goes on to a monochromatic underpainting. …

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