Portrait of the man as a young artist, Daily Post, Thursday 9 January 1992
Diane Massey meets Dick Young, finding favour with the art world at the age of 70
The bearded art student looked a little embarrassed. There he sat with sketchbook, carefully copying from an exhibition at Liverpool’s Bluecoat Chambers. I told the student I knew the artist whose study of a chair was now recorded in his sketchbook and that he would be most flattered. The student was quite taken aback that he had been taking an idea from a 70-year-old artist he knew nothing about.
Richard ‘Dick’ Young’s painting ‘Drawings on the Wall’ was selected to hang in the John Moores exhibition in Liverpool this autumn. It was his first successful excursion in this competition although in the ’60s the Walker Art Gallery took sufficient interest in this electrician turned painter to purchase a couple of his pictures. Yet strangely, very little happened for Dick Young after that. Until fairly recently.
1991 was something of a renaissance for him. There were several exhibitions in addition to his John Moores success. He is about to appear in a Granada TV documentary and features strongly in a new book on Liverpool’s burgeoning art scene. Next week his one man show Some Friends, opens at the Acorn Gallery, Newington, off Renshaw Street.
Stories of Dick’s romantic life in Liverpool abound. He lives in a flat in a large Liverpool 8 house which until recently was a famous brothel. Now he says, students have moved in ‘and it’s much noisier’. Early attempts at conversation can be thwarted by Young’s shyness and his tendency to talk obliquely. He has a well-developed knowledge, not only of art, but of literature, films and music.
He never married, the fount of more romantic yarns. His dishevelled figure in raincoat with rollie in mouth is to be found most nights in the company of Liverpool’s young art set. ‘You really should be writing about them’, he says modestly.
He was born in Walton Hospital the son of an installation manager, physically overshadowed by a six-foot sister. ‘There came a time when my father took me aside and told me to get a trade’, he recalls. ‘I had a desire to be an electrician because it was a good job and I needed the money’. His artistic life he dismisses as childish creativity. ‘Children play games and the games involve drawing, scribbling hop-scotch. It’s all the one thing: activity. It gets rid of your energy. It is a diversion’.
He was an electrician for more than 30 years, both in Liverpool and in Newcastle. He studied life drawing in both places but much later studied as a mature student at Liverpool Art College. For a long time then, he was self taught. ‘Nobody is self taught’, he replied with some indignation, ‘that’s nonsense, one picks it up from this person or that person. Or there are galleries, there are books, there are plenty of people you go and see’.
There are recurring themes in his painting: a window, a chair. He says he empties his mind when he approaches a canvas. ‘One is engrossed – trying to evoke a feeling of a window, for example, and sometimes the window appears on the surface and sometimes the window appears as though we can look through it. There’s a number of other things which can’t be fully explained’.
He insists he doesn’t put personal aspects of his own life into his painting. ‘What emerges to the viewer is their concern. They may see all sorts of things in it which I have no intention of doing’.
He has a quirky sense of humour and deploys this in his other artistic outlet – cartoons in which fellow artist Adrian Henri is seen to walk on water and wealthy nude patrons attend a private view at which all the exhibits are fully clad. He signs his work with the ironic acronym DIY. Friends describe him as a gentleman.
‘One picks up a blank piece of paper for amusement. One likes to surprise people’, and here he pulls out a matchbox from its cover to reveal a pencil portrait of a girl’s laughing head on the inside. ‘It’s very easy to sit alone and think you’re a genius but then you do come down to earth. It’s a load of rubbish isn’t it ?”
The snowball of success means he has actually sold a few paintings recently but financial rewards have come a little late in the day. ‘At my time of life a lot of money would not be good for my health. I go along with Degas when he said anyone has talent at 20 but the point is to have something left at 50. I didn’t know where I was at 50. One carries on. After a while it becomes obsessive – like biting finger nails’.