Russell Young’s brush with FAME

Russell Young is a British-American artist known for his large-scale silk screen paintings examining the cultural phenomena of fame and the promise, and souring, of the American Dream. Throughout the 1970s and 80s Young photographed many music stars, including Morrissey, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, REM, Björk and more, while his portrait series have depicted the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, Kate Moss and Elvis Presley. Now more than forty years into his esteemed career, Russell Young is bringing his acclaimed works to Australia for the first time, exhibiting the portrait series FAME exclusively at Gullotti Galleries in Perth from Friday, November 17. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with Russell Young to find out his thoughts on the concept of ‘fame’ and the people that have come to embody it.

It’s great to have your exhibition FAME here in Australia for the first time! Did you set out to combine these pieces into an exhibition, or did the collection grow organically through the work you were doing? 

FAME took five years to create, a deliberate timeline and cast of characters.

There is a focus on American stars and the ‘American Dream’ with this FAME exhibition. As someone who moved from the UK to the US, and has had a career in both environments, what would you say were the difference between the two countries’ ideas towards ‘famous’ people?

I think they are pretty much the same in that sense. What I am interested in, is the American Dream and the souring of that dream. What America gives me is the ability and permission to create, the UK suffocates me. America has allowed me to be the feral person I am, to forget who I am. I surf on the California coast where I live during storms when no one else is around. I hike in the remote mountains for twenty-four hours. I love to hike in the light of the full moon. I swim far out in the ocean in the middle of the night to float in the inky black darkness. I engage with the physical world to feel free. That freedom is easy to grasp in America, and that translates into a sense of nonchalance in my studio. That is where the magic begins.

And who comes to mind when you think of ‘famous’ Australians?

Ned Kelly and Nicole Kidman.

You have a silk-screening press that used to belong to Andy Warhol. How did you come to acquire that? And is it normal for these to last such a long time? 

My master printer was gifted it and some of Warhol’s paints, and diamond dust. In the FAME exhibition, some are the colours mixed from Warhol’s pigments and paints. The press keeps breaking down, we keep repairing it, like a classic car.

You’re known for your use of ‘diamond dust.’ What is the magical substance and how does it influence your visual work?

Ask Tinkerbell, she does the diamond dusting. The diamond dust adds a sculptural element to my paintings.

You have photographed some of the world’s biggest music stars through the 70s and 80s, like Morrissey, Springsteen, Bob Dylan and more. Who was the most different in person than you expected them to be, judging by their ‘public’ persona?

Morrissey and George Michael. Morrissey is a genius, that was a surprise, and George was kind, generous, loving and ridiculously talented.

Fame is an ever evolving and changing theme, given there are always new faces and personalities arriving and becoming the ‘next big thing.’ What contemporary famous people are you intrigued by, that may become the subjects of your collection in the future?

You have to do what you feel like creating. It’s that feeling, which is intuition. It’s impossible to explain that energy what draws me to a subject. I love the 1960s and 1970s rather than a contemporary timeline, Kate Moss and Kendrick Lamar being the exception. History and time edit those of true merit.