“La lumière crue
Se charge vers moi
Me laissant vide
The Light Pours out of me
From the album Real Life by Magazine 1978
All is Vanity.
Magazine’s song The Light Pours Out of Me pre-dates Coen Young.
Much of frontman Howard DeVoto’s lyrics had a snarky bitterness to them, a legacy to the ‘bonfire of vanities’ that punk yearned to be. DeVoto’s earlier musical life was with the Buzzcocks, whose anxieties were somewhat less existential – for them it was fast cars and orgasm addiction, although one of their ‘hits’ seems well suited to the current millennial slackers… ”What do I get?”
With Magazine, the pH level of De Voto’s lyrics and music dropped a notch or two, the whole pitch became more layer and sophisticated as the nihilism of punk gave way to a slightly sullen brand of existentialism.
The theatrical negativity of punk was unlikely to have sustained much of Young’s attention. I’m well aware his energy is more Camus than Rotten and yet there is something ‘quietly punk’, if that makes sense, about his significant suite of works, collectively titled Studies for a Mirror. It is not simply that these works resist many of the orthodoxies and imagined responsibilities of a painting, rather it’s that they refuse a position and then set about questioning ours. They exist as endlessly mutable veils of refusal – evading form, and abnegating image.
This play on our narcissistic urge is at the core of Young’s work. He is acutely aware of our desire to feel recognition and satisfaction in the embrace that reflection offers. By denying us that pleasure he reminds us of the transience of the image and in the works deeper connection to enshrouding. Like the gauzy imprint of Veronica’s veil, we are given nothing but traces, a faltering hologram.
Given that paintings usually set out to either describe or establish form, Young’s pursuit of its absence draws connections to the work of German painter Günter Umberg. Umberg’s paintings radically assert body and materiel and yet the experience of them is one where absence and presence are in sensitive balance. As different as the materiality of Young’s work is from Umberg’s, the manner in which they both seem to paint themselves out of the work…
In 2009 I suggested that “…the existentialism that Umberg refers to in this making is replayed in our viewing with the quiet disorientation and sensory confusion that we experience as part of the realignment of knowledge and emotion that paintings arouse in us.” This statement could easily be applied to Coen Young’s paintings. The disorientation arising, not from the depth and elusiveness of the “still-point”, but of the ceaselessness of the turning world.
As much as Umberg’s paintings attune our senses to the banishment of light, to it’s lowest possible register, Young’s shimmering veils make it feel as if the light pours out of him, pooling in front of us, tempting our vanity – but in the end these paintings remind us that it is not us that is beautiful, but our uncertainty, our transience.