Written by Marina May
Edited by lexi turin
In the back room of the bermuda project...
Artist Jon Young stores a massive sculpture. With an oversized scale (larger than six feet in height and incredibly wide), it immediately hypnotizes anyone who dares look at it. Flawlessly fabricated, the massive piece takes the form of a zig-zag, and contained within its Plexiglas surface a pale labyrinth floats, suspended upon a background of patchwork brick. Punctuating the all-white rhythmic maze of brick, a linear neon green symbol shoots upward, subverting the solitary work.
Young’s entrancing piece embeds ancient symbolism into the framework of minimalism. The contrast of the two extremes, linked within a singular plane, traverses two vastly different epochs of art and invite introspection within the bounds of its reflective surface.
“The symbols [come] from a cave painting heritage. They allow me to deal with a different time [using] modern materials,” Young says. His work aims to place viewers in a space where they are forced to deal with unconventional, illusionistic surroundings.
The Plexiglas, a recurring element in his practice, allows Young to construct multiple layers within a singular shallow space, creating what he calls a “hierarchy of reality.” Notoriously tricky to manipulate, the “Plexi” (as Jon calls it) warps easily, so he contains it within self-produced frames. In this way, he restrains a volatile element within a rigid cage.
Coming from a background in foundry work, Young’s experience with mold-making and casting directly informs his practice, permitting him to bring flat images into “a real [three-dimensional] space.” His various experiments with depth were spurred by the working quarters in his studio at Washington University in St. Louis, where he is currently in the second year of his MFA program.
His most recent exhibition was in the school’s studio complex . At his show , he debuted his most recent works, all of which are guided by an indecipherable code derived from ancient markings, typically rendered in neon or formed in negative space. On their ambiguous nature, Jon says he got to a point in sign-making where it was getting “too literal.”
“I started thinking about what we do as artists: we are creating our own language,
and how that falls into a trust in other language,” he says. “The visual symbol of a labyrinth comments on being nomadic, and…the sense of orientation and disorientation of the space.”
A nomadic lifestyle has influenced Young. Growing up in a military family, he moved around in his youth and eventually became the first in his family to attend college. At University of North Carolina, he studied business, but upon moving to a tiny town in rural Wyoming, he realized that he had a passion for art.
“In grade school, I remember copying Ninja Turtle drawings and some kid was like, ‘Damn, you can draw!’ That was the beginning,” says Young, who has recently been exploring a new form of draftsmanship, painting.
In his studio hangs a photo-realistic painting depicting tin foil trays, populated with neon emblems served up to the viewer within the wells of the pans – once again conflating present with past. He finds meaning in both consumer goods and his manufactured mythology, generating a surreal plane suspended in a terra-cotta matrix.
“I just started painting. It’s a different challenge. I’ve figured out how to construct things and manipulate them the way I want to,” says Young, as he discusses the transition into painting. “The exploration of color has been mind-blowing. I started painting and every color I see… it’s like, ‘Where have I been?’”