Encountering Dick Young

The Letter

I first came to know the work of  Liverpool artist Richard (Dick) Young on visits to a friend who owns several of his paintings. Every time I visited his home, I felt drawn to the images on his wall –  two working class women and a child sat around the front room table laden with teapot, cups, milk bottle and jam pot, and through the window the terraced street outside; or the self-portrait seated in front of the fire grate, one elbow resting on the arm of the seat, fist clenched.

Self-Portrait 1977

I’ve stared at these pictures for many years now, enjoying them for their directness in portraying nondescript scenes of urban working class life and admiring the muted tones and the manner in which Young has applied the paint in thick and heavy brush-strokes reminiscent of  Sickert or Auerbach.

Once known as ‘ Liverpool’s best kept secret’, Dick Young was an artist who relished the life of the painter into which he poured his energies, whilst also working as an electrician.  I never met him, but people who knew him well speak of him with affection, recalling a private man who largely worked alone – both as an artist and electrician – and who was not given to blowing his own trumpet. Once asked what was his great achievement, he replied, ‘rewiring the Midland Bank, Bootle, in 1962′.  Yet he was a gregarious man, deeply fond of his mother and his friends – who often turn up in his paintings – and a familiar face at artists’ watering-holes and exhibition openings.  Known for his mildly eccentric ways (always buying his clothes from Oxfam and never washing them until they had to be replaced from the same source, though always well turned out in collar and tie and jacket), Young lived hand-to-mouth for most of his life, growing up in the working class streets of Walton, London and Newcastle, and living for the last twenty-odd years of his life in a spartan and disordered flat on Bedford Street in Liverpool 8.

Young’s artistic career stretched from the late 1940s to the 1990s.  His greatest recognition came in the years  during which Liverpool’s art scene was vibrant and progressive. For most of that time, the artists that grabbed attention were avant-gardeists carrying the torch for movements  like Pop Art, while the DNA of Young’s work was more traditional – so much so that he was dubbed the ‘Old Master’  by those on the art scene.  Perhaps this is why Young did not receive the critical recognition and public acclaim that his work deserved, but as for himself he insisted on painting only what he knew and cared about.

Dick Young (1921 – 2003), legendary Liverpool denizen and artist, was his own master as a painter, preserving his own individuality and never  associating himself with any Liverpool school or group.  Much of his distinctive drawing and painting style dealt with domestic scenes (often celebrating the quiet life of his mother Nelly), interiors (inside a room looking out through a window onto a nondescript Liverpool street) or captured moments in the lives of those on the art scene who were his friends.

On this site you can learn more about Dick Young’s life and times, read articles written about his work, and browse galleries of his paintings and drawings.  This is a work in progress – if you have a memory of Dick Young or thoughts about his work  that you would like to share, or if you own a painting by him, I would like to hear from you.

Gerry Cordon

32 comments on “Encountering Dick Young

  1. Gerry
    I’ve circulated this widely. Thanks as ever – this time for (to my shame) revealing the work of an artist unknown to me.
    Cheers
    Kevin

    • Gerry says:

      Thanks, Kevin. I’m hoping to interview several people who knew Dick or bought his pictures. So hopefully more will be added to the site.

  2. Michael Corlett says:

    Hi Gerry,

    I was just browsing to see if I could find any images of Dick’s work online and was delighted to discover your site. Dick was a close friend of my dad’s for many years and I met him several times. At my dad’s suggestion, I tracked him down at his local pub during a visit to Liverpool in the early 90s, and had a couple of nights out with him. My dad owns several of Dick’s paintings, and I’m sure he would be happy to talk to you if you’re interested – so please e-mail me if you are.

    Mike

    • Gerry says:

      Mike, I’d certainly be interested in meeting your dad and gathering his reminiscences of Dick for the blog, if that’s possible. Can you describe the paintings he owns – or do you have images? Thanks for visiting/

      • Gerry says:

        Oh, and Frank Milner asks if your dad lent any of his paintings for the retrospective that Frank curated at the Williamson, Birkenhead?

      • Michael Corlett says:

        The pictures my dad owns – as far as I can remember – are two still-lifes in a quite abstracted style, one featuring an HP sauce bottle and a pill bottle, two interiors, one featuring an oval mirror reflecting a stack of books, the other showing a fireplace and a view through a window, a small, dark self-portrait head and a self-portrait drawn on newspaper in charcoal. I will try to find an opportunity to photograph them some time in the next few weeks so I can send you images.

        I don’t believe my dad has ever lent any of these to be shown. I notice he already has a mention on your site, by the way – he is the Alf Corlett who shared a studio with Dick. It is also very likely that he was instrumental in organising Dick’s show at the Bede Gallery in Jarrow in the 70s – though he can’t actually remember! There is certainly plenty about Dick he can remember, though, so I’m sure you could find out a lot from talking to him, plus I could probably help to jog his memory, as he has told me a lot about Dick over the years. Oh, and he has also told me he thinks he has a lot of old photos of Dick, which he is going to have a look for.

        He lives near Brighton, so I don’t know how practical it would be for you to meet up with him – though I’m sure he would be happy to meet you.

        Mike

  3. William Leece says:

    A trip down memory lane. He managed to combine a modesty of demeanour with the essential self-belief that anyone must need to make progress, especially at the age he was when he took his degree.
    He was always good company in dens like the Everyman Bistro, the Cracke or Peter Kavanagh’s often in the company of Tommy the Brush (Tommy Watson, now in poor health, sadly).
    Alas, my car broke down on the way to his funeral at Anfield crem, so I was never able to pay my last respects. But with a couple of his paintings on the wall at home, the memories are as alive as ever.The service was, i gather, standing-room only.

    • Gerry says:

      Thanks, William. Your assessment of Dick – ‘modesty of demeanour with the essential self-belief’ – matches that of others who knew him.

  4. Dick was my good friend as he was to all ‘young’ artists in Liverpool at that time.
    He is a great painter and we all learnt a lot from being around him.
    I have very much enjoyed seeing his work here again and thank you very much for putting together the site.
    I am circulating it to those I know who may be interested.

  5. Gerry says:

    Thanks for your comment, Rodney. Frank Milner says, Where are you now? Would you be interested, as a fellow-painter, in expanding your thoughts on Dick for this blog?

  6. Dick was my great uncle, and I am currently working on a print based article for my university work surrounding his life, I have found your website extremely useful and I would like to thank you for all of the information provided.

    Kind regards.

    • Gerry says:

      Thanks, Thomas. I never met Dick, though Frank Milner my collaborator on this blog did. If you have any recollections – or would like eventually to share your university paper – they would be much appreciated.

  7. Dick Young and my dad (Jim Blackwell) were friends for many years. ‘Uncle’ Dick was a regular visitor to our household in the late 60s and 70s – I still remember him bringing us the little plastic toys from cereal packets. My dad taught briefly at Liverpool Polytechnic – he and others encouraged Dick to take a degree there. In later years I saw him from time to time at the Cracke and the Casablanca – always quiet and self-effacing, but always with considerable presence.

    I bought the window view listed here as ‘Interior 1986′ from a show at the Williamson in the 90s. My dad has several others, including one of a blowlamp that was quite inscrutable to me as a child.

    • Gerry says:

      Thanks for your little vignette, Tim. Everyone who knew Dick seems to have shared the same opinion of him. Does your Dad have any paintings not in our gallery here? And if so, how would you feel about photographing them at low res to add to our display? We’d like to aim at comprehensiveness.

  8. dorothy gilhooly maas says:

    Hi Gerry, Do you know if Dick Young ever worked in New York or San Francisco as an artist around 1964. I may have a painting of his. I would like to see his signature, then I would know.
    Thanks, Dorothy

    • Gerry says:

      Hi Dorothy. I’m going to check with those who may know – but I think it’s highly unlikely.

      • Gerry says:

        Further to last night’s response: I’ve checked with Frank Milner who knew Dick, and curated the 1994 retrospective. He says Dick was in New York during the war going back and forth as a ships radio operator. He goes on: ‘When Nicky Horsfield and Dick were talking with me once about the war(in connection with his exhibition and the chronology of his life) they both said that they ceased to paint while it was on. Dick could have made a pic from a photo I suppose – he did do that. If you can send an image it should be possible to confirm immediately if it is by Dick. Also the back of the pic if it has any writing on – his handwiting is quite distinctive.Dick’ s signature varied – full name – upper and lower case – and DY – and he did not sign several of his works’.

  9. Steve des Landes says:

    Hi Gerry
    I knew Dick from the early eighties up until his death, I used to use his studio in the Bridewell when I was a LAW [liverpool artists workshop member] he was great fun, I was full of enthusiasm and probably got on his nerves asking lots of questions . He never publically took him self seriously, but he was as focused and committed to his work as the very best of us. Bob Ward, Myself and Mick Lawson used to go upto the life room, where Anton Beaver was also working and do life drawing a long time after having left as students, Dick used to finish one drawing then turn it over and do another, I still have a few of his that i made drawing upon myself.
    Mike Knowles was very tolerant of us all.
    I used to live on Gambier Terrace and most nights would pop down to the Casa, and Dick was usually there well into the night, we both nursed a Newcky Brown for most of the night.
    Great memories DIY,

    Regards Steve des Landes

    • Gerry says:

      Thanks, Steve, for your response: it really conjures the atmosphere of the time.

      • Steve des Landes says:

        Hi Gerry

        Great blog, I have been following you for some time, love the range of interests you cover and your enthusiasm, I am having a show at the View two Gallery in Sept, would it be possible for you to review it, my site is http://www.steve.dselandes.co.uk, hope you dont think me to forward .

        Regards Steve

  10. Gerry says:

    Hi Steve – thanks for your generous comments. I’d certainly like to see your exhibition having had a look at your work on your website (BTW – you mis-typed the address: for anyone interested, it’s http://www.stevedeslandes.co.uk/). I’d write about it on my other blog (which I assume is the one you’ve been following) at http://gerryco23.wordpress.com/. Remind me nearer the time about the exhibition if you can. Cheers, Gerry

  11. Dave Lumb says:

    A combination of nostalgia and Google brought me here. I’m glad it did.

    I don’t know if this photo of mine of Dick at Liverpool Poly, May 1981, is of any interest http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-SD8sTjLyJhc/UAsSZ8IWQtI/AAAAAAAAIdQ/s3OJWuyDhy4/s1600/nostalgia2.jpg

    • Gerry says:

      Suberb photo, Dave (love the ones on your Sandgrounding site, too). How did you know Dick and come to take the photo?

      • Dave Lumb says:

        Hi Gerry

        I was a fine art student at the Poly from 79-82 and almost always had a camera with me in those days. I must have taken that shot one lunch time judging by the deserted studio.

        I didn’t have much contact with Dick to be honest as he didn’t use the studio all that often. I’ve learned more about him from your site than I knew at the time.Thanks.

  12. john towell says:

    hello Gerry thanks for reply. Will post dick young portraits when i sort out pc problems.Bought these from Dick many years ago in bluecoat chambers signed/dated dy 95 approx 1ft x 1ft 9inches.like his work obviously. just about to get them framed ,after discovering them after moving house.cheers john towell

  13. cliff warner says:

    Many thanks for this site, a very warm journey down memory lane. I remember Dick Young from my fine art student days 81-84. I knew him as a quite & modest man with integrity, who was a friend to everyone. I remember mostly his drawings & I’m pleased to view his paintings on this site.

  14. Irene Cowell says:

    Hello Gerry, have just come upon your site after searching for more info about Dick Young’s paintings. I knew Dick back in the late 70′s/early 80′s and we spent many a pleasant night in the Casa and Cracke. He was such a modest and generous man. I have quite a few photos of him from that era.
    One year he gave me a painting for my birthday, it’s of a woman (rather dark and mysterious) – I think there were 2 that were similar and I am not sure if one or both were exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery I am not sure if it has a title or not. I also have a couple of pencil sketches he did of Walton Park. Sadly, since I moved I don’t have them displayed, they are in the attic. If you were interested in seeing them or photos of them then let me know.

    • Gerry says:

      Thanks, Irene, for your response to our Dick Young blog. Yes – we would be very interested to see the photos of him that you have, but especially it would be great to be able to add images of the painting and the pencil sketches to the blog gallery. If you could take photos of them and email them to me here we would really appreciate it. We would of course give you credit on the blog, and if you wanted to add any reminiscences about Dick we would add those too.

  15. Ed Perry says:

    Hi Gerry
    I have a Dick Young oil painting I am looking to sell

    Title – Chair
    Medium – Oil on canvas
    Size – 31 x 24 inches
    Exhibited – Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 1986

    Could you please let me know if you or other collectors maybe interested
    You can call me on 07519 655625

    Kind Regards
    Ed Perry

  16. nayruth1 says:

    He was a really sweet man who gave me his own studio in the Bluecoat for a shot at having my first studio after Liverpool Polytechnic. I loved his paintings and the quiet encouragement he gave me . All I have is a little postcard of a chair painted by him which I have carried from house to house and studio to studio . he also got me to do a weekend residency with him at the Walker Art Gallery saying he was only going to do it if I did too. I saw a drawing he had done of himself as a young man which was lovely .I told him I wish I had known him when he was younger but that would have been missing the point completely.I knew him when I was younger and he was instrumental in making me keep painting and value my friendships with other artists. Ruth Nay

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