Member Spotlight: An Interview with Artist Drew Young

Member Spotlights are an on-going series of interviews with people from our community! You can learn more about becoming a member hereFor this instalment Vancouver-based artist Drew Young discusses the evolution of his art and his experience as a muralist at this year’s POW! WOW! Hawaii festival.

Drew Young @ POW! WOW! Hawaii 2019, filmed/edited by Jopa

You’re living in Vancouver now but you were born over on the island, can you tell us three things about Victoria that most people don’t know?

Correcto-mundo, I’m an island boy, but I didn’t do all that much growing up in Vic. I largely grew up in Deep Cove (that’s right there’s two, you steely-eyed Vancouverites) and Sidney, land of the newly wed and nearly dead. That said, I lived in the city for about a year while attending Victoria College of Art and doing the regular degenerate doings one does in their late teens, i.e. misdemeanour arrests, smoking, drinking, and doing graffiti. If the island gave me one thing it would be trust, which is to blame for my gullible nature.

1. You can go putting surrounded by real-life peacocks at Beacon Hill Park. It’s not exactly a closely kept secret but for me, it was surreal stumbling in without knowing. BYOPutter&Ball and might as well BYOB as drinking in parks is life.

2. There’s a highly coveted underground tunnel system there. Lots of access point are closed off now but you can sift through online threads to find some. Remember to bring: boots, a carbon monoxide reader and a flame-thrower.

3. Great Downtown/Fairview views at Gonzales Hill Regional Park at night.

Mantel, painting by Drew Young

What were you like as a kid?

Basically, a huge manipulative nerd. I loved science and trying to build things out of anything, decommissioned or not. RIP every electronic device left alone in the garage. I was also passionate for RPG’s, Magic the Gathering, yo-yo’s, and hella lego robotics. My most notable stock in nerdom was badminton, where I played provincially and nationally for years. We lived in a pretty rural area so I spent much of time in the sticks with my brother Evan. We had a fair bit of forest to play with and a woodshop to build in. We built heaps of artillery in that shop: catapults, mangonels, crossbows, potato cannons, pneumatic rifles, napalm.

Why manipulative, you ask? Evan was four years younger than me, a dynamic that lent itself to me bullying him into all sorts of “test runs” on our “projects”. To my defence, some of these were BMX and mountain bike related. In these cases, I didn’t want him to get hurt, I just wanted to see him do bigger and crazier shit than either of us thought we were capable of. And yes, he did get hurt. A lot. But guess whose brother is the builder for one of the world’s top downhill freestyle riders, Brandon Semenuk?

What’s changed since then? And what hasn’t?

Well, I don’t build bombs and boobytraps anymore. But my insatiable appetite to create and be innovative never petered off. I’ve continued to focus on making new things with all the tools at my disposal. Creating art gives me the thrill of creating something that never existed before. Once a praise-seeking, identity-searching teen, I’m now in my thirties dreaming there’s a pocket in the art world that’s untouched.

Drifter, mural by artist Drew Young

Who are some people that influenced you when you were young? Anyone you wanted to be like?

I was and still am crazy competitive. Friends who drew really well would drive my infantile mind up the wall. I’ve always wanted to identify as the “art kid” so when I would see my peers murder a superhero drawing I would lose sleep over it. This pushed me to practice immensely in my spare time hoping to not lose face haha. My parents were incredibly supportive of whatever I wanted to explore. As long as I was willing to put my mind to it they’d have my back with supplies or courses. My parents are very artistic as well. I grew up watching my dad produce incredibly sophisticated architectural ink drawings. He was also a very talented watercolourist. I think his ink drawings had the greatest effect on me though. They were mind-bogglingly techy and I couldn’t fathom how to create an image with so much detail. It was this awe that I felt towards his work that inspired me to explore realism, complex tableaus, and narratives as an artist. I want that “how-in-the-fuck” reaction from my viewers.

Fissure, painting by artist Drew Young

What about now, who do you look up to?

As if I haven’t made it apparent but I love innovation; artists who are real craftspeople and push their craft into new realms, be it representational or abstract. Quick all-star roll call: Satone, João Ruas, Hense, Ian Francis, Jaybo Monk, James Jean, MadC, Kofie, Peeta, Zoer, Velvet, Tomer Hanuka, Jeremy Mann. Obviously, I’m only naming a few off the top of my head, most of which I’m sure your readers are familiar with. I also love me some classics: Dean Cornwell, J.C Leyendecker, Andrew Wyeth, and John Singer Sargent to name a few. 

I should note that Ben Tour, who’s out here on the coast, has played a huge influence on me and continues to create very solid stuff. I feel there’s a lot of artists that wanted to paint like him and went through a “Ben Tour” phase trying to implement his mastery of mark variation, washes, and uber sexy gestural compositions.

My old studiomate James Knight has been doing some really fresh stuff with aerosol and acrylics. In my mind, he’s arguably one of the best portrait/spray dudes out there. He’s very much a “how-in-the-fuck” kinda guy.

 Also shout outs to the ACAD squad out here, Greame McCormack, Doug Nhung, Tim Mack and Kyle Scott. This is a crew of ball-achingly talented folks who seem to never shut off the lights. I’m constantly scared of what’s going on in this incubator house of freaks.

Unclasp, painting by Drew Young

How has your work changed over the past few years and what are you excited about these days?

Since coming out of university I’ve always been a figurative guy. But being an over-thinker I would spend almost an equal amount of time preparing for a piece versus actually painting it. Not that I think that’s bad, it’s just a buttload of time to put into each thing. When I approach figurative work I’m sucked into a neurotic world of building characters and narratives. Message first, execution second. I want the message to be impactful, honest and culturally relevant so I would go deep into my own and my peers’ experiences. My tableau paintings explore parts of the human condition I found relatively overlooked in art from my perspective: credulousness behaviour, irreverent attitudes, narcissism, drug consumption, sexual taboos and violence. I love bashing my viewers’ heads with complex paintings that might say something about them they’re unwilling to discuss. And if I’m going to be honest, there are some that speak to my own hidden feelings. 

The whole time I was wrapped up in this dark sociological stuff I would re-evaluate what my purpose as an artist was. I felt the need to unhinge myself from trying to make “important” art and try to make more process driven and explorative work. Also, you know, maybe something that can go on someone’s wall might be nice.

Specter, painting by artist Drew Young
Crumble, painting by artist Drew Young

A couple years back a friend of mine, Ezra Kish, hollered at me to paint some nocturnal florals in The American, a bar here in the city. I hadn’t really fucked with floral all that much other than using them for the odd dressing in a piece. Instantly, it was freeing in the sense that all I’m working with are big shapes of colour, being pushed and pulled in a rudimentary way. And that’s kind of when all this flower madness started. I packed up all my tools and tricks I’d use on my narrative stuff and have gone full tilt floral style ever since. 
Despite being such traditional subject matter, this floral route has been really exciting. I think with my figurative works I would try to hide the fact that I’m using Photoshop. I guess I had these weird ideologies around traditional painting and integrating technology into it. But with this direction, I’m using it very explicitly to work my compositions into a much more abstract context. I’ve given myself permission to see how far I can take the subject matter to the precipice of identifiability and absurdity. I can build these compositions much faster as they’re not hyper cerebral explorations of the human condition but rather explorations of colour, texture and composition. And guess what? My phone rings more often.

You’re involved in so many art events in Vancouver, from the Vancouver Mural Festival, to Skookum Festival and Snag Life Painting Art Raffle… how do you manage working so much as a curator/facilitator and still have time for your own art?

In 2016 I had become a very active curator and creative consultant for festivals and events in Vancouver. This became, however, a massive detriment to my career as a painter. There’s a lot of energy that goes into that type of work, festivals are fucking nuts, especially when we started the Vancouver Mural Festival in 2016. I should also mention the type of work I was making wasn’t exactly the most palatable for these types of events so it was almost impossible to facilitate and include myself. But, over the last couple years, I’ve come to terms with my time management. I’ve also come to learn that while I love helping create lots of cool opportunities and nurture talents, I’ve got to remember where I came from and what makes me the happiest. Becoming more comfortable in having trust in others and letting go of control has played a big part in me getting back into the painters chair or lift.

Last year I spent a great deal of time producing studio and public works in order to start making that shift back. Using my experience with VMF, I was able to navigate and negotiate a handful of huge outdoor murals which gave me a bit of a leg to stand on again as an artist. 

In short, I can’t say I’ve really ever struck up a perfect balance between facilitating all those events with my practice. Now that I’ve found a direction that keeps me busy and supported I have to secede some of my facilitation chips.

Drew Young painting at POW! WOW! Hawaii

You recently had the opportunity to paint a mural at this year’s POW! WOW! Hawaii festival, can you talk about that whole experience?

Well, right off the top, to my good friend Jeff Hamada AKA Mr. Cherry-on-top, the best, most supportive human I’ve come in contact with, thank you for getting me involved. It was incredible and then some. Jasper Wong, Kamea Hadar and Jeff Gress run a really fun show over there. I had a couple of days up front to bomb around the island and hang with all these rockstar artists.

POW!WOW! Hawaii does a really good job making sure there’s something to go to every night. Between block parties, exhibitions, artist talks, and concerts they left little-to-no gaps for boredom. For me, I’d never been to Hawaii so the whole thing was a trip. I loved how stream-lined they were on infrastructure. There will be a number of cues I’ll adopt when it comes to VMF. They work with top-tier artists there so they never encounter a diaper show nor do I think they’d tolerate it.

Once the opening ceremonies were done, I was on my wall at Waikiki Brewery full-steam ahead. It was one of the bigger walls and naturally, I bit off a lot to chew complexity wise. That said, other than the odd bit of rain throwing me off the wall, it wasn’t all that stressful. All my material and equipment was perfect. My studiomate Jopa came out to assist and film which made things roll even more swimmingly. Also big x’s and o’s to my girl Colleen ‘Corky’ Christison who came out for my birthday and fell in love with a scooter. I did have to take a page out of POW!WOW! Co-founder Kamea Hadar’s book when it came to rendering. I was walking around with Reeder and we were talking about Kamea’s approach to huge gradients in the heat to which he mentioned a spray bottle. Normally back home the paint doesn’t flash all that fast so you can achieve some good blends but the bottle was clutch on that smouldering slab of cement.

I was usually completely bushed after each day so I, unfortunately, didn’t get to check out a number of POW!WOW! activations. But once I was wrapped I got to hang with the crew before everyone left. Oh, and speaking of crew! On day 3 I turned around on the lift and to my amazement, my VMF posse was standing there with their partners and 3 babies. That’s right, 11 whole lovely humans came to check everything out and show support. Holy moly! 

I’d go back in a heartbeat, it was so much fun. Mahalo to Jasper Wong, Kamea Hadar, Jeff Gress, the POW!WOW! team and to the neighbourhood of Kaka’ako for being so much fun and supportive.

Kamea Hadar (POW! WOW! co-director), Drew Young, Jasper Wong (POW! WOW! co-director)

One of your friends, Jopa (also a Booooooom member), travelled out there to help you! Tell our readers about Jopa.

Jopa is one of the newest additions to our Layout Studio crew here in Vancouver. I’ve worked with him at VMF and Snag and the kid writes calligraphy with liquid lightning. He’s a stellar designer and has become a very sexy editor so he’s quite the force to be reckoned with. Did I mention his personality is a drop of ambrosia leaked from the gods? As for POW!WOW! having an experienced muralist and calligrapher was such a win for some of the curvilinear components on the wall. It’s also really nice to have someone reset your brushes and paints and keep you focused on just painting.

Did the trip give you any new perspective? Maybe for the Vancouver Mural Festival and/or for your own work?

Well, there were a couple of instances where I realized sometimes you just have to be at the table to get a piece. I feel artists and galleries are inundated with content all day long and it’s hard to stand out. Not that the work isn’t strong but in some cases actually hanging with them is what makes a difference in getting opportunities. In the future I can see myself travelling a lot more to openings I’m a part of in order to build real relationships with folks outside of DM’s and emails.

 As far as new perspectives for VMF I think I’ll be a little more reserved upfront when it comes to how much support I can fully give. I find myself going way out of my way to make sure artists are supported and there have been instances where I’ve had that taken advantage of. With POW!WOW!, they have their shit tight and have all the fail safes and support crew needed to do anything. Same is true with VMF but I’d like to see artists support themselves a little more before they rely on me for things like printing references.

At this point in your life, what are you most proud of?

Right here, right now. I’m also the happiest I’ve been in a long time.

What’s one piece of good life advice you’ve received? And who gave it you?

One thing at a time. 
-my mom

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