Peter Young’s art is a blast from the past that singes the present. His almost-major career, which flourished during the fashionably mythic late 1960s and early ’70s, has been drifting just out of reach for decades, a tantalizing medley of dotted, stained, gridded and geometric paintings, rarely seen but not forgotten. Now his work has been gathered into his first museum show anywhere and his first solo show in New York in 23 years.
Together these shows reintroduce a maverick Zenned-out hedonist who was also a process-oriented formalist with a sharp painterly intelligence, a genius for color and a penchant for the tribal and spiritual. They also revisit the efforts of an ambitious artist who got to the brink of a big New York abstract-painter career and took a pass, dropping almost completely from view and fading into legend.
Mr. Young was a painter of the 1960s in just about every sense of the word, up to and including the early use of LSD. Born in Pittsburgh in 1940, he grew up precocious near Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Canyon. His parents collected tribal art, as did family friends the painter Lee Mullican and his wife, Luchita. (Their son is the artist Matt Mullican.) By his teenage years Mr. Young had mastered a semblance of an Abstract Expressionist style. After studying art at the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) in Los Angeles and Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., he moved to New York in 1960 with his wife, the dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp.
By 1969 he was part of a generation that would tinker incessantly with paintings’ fundamentals and had most of his ducks in a row for a big career. The high point was a two-man show with David Diao at the Leo Castelli Gallery. But when it opened, Mr. Young was on a four-month sojourn in Costa Rica, living among the Boruca Indians, painting on cloth stretched on four sticks tied at the corners. His marriage was over; he had an itch to travel; and his tolerance for the New York world was ebbing. (Upon his return from Costa Rica he retitled two paintings “Capitalist Masterpiece.”)
He roamed about the American Southwest and spent several months in Spain and Morocco. By the time one of his dot paintings made the cover of Artforum in April 1971, he was gone for good. In 1972 he settled more or less permanently in Bisbee, Ariz., where he continues to live and work. – New York Times
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Occasionally, the methods by which an artist lives a life is equally if not more inspiring than the process by which the artist creates work. Peter Young learned early on that the honest life of a painter is often marred with unpopular choices and career decisions that are initially met with skepticism when viewed through a purely capitalistic lens. He was at the cusp of his mandatory modern artists’ “good ten-year-run”, when he chose to walk away from the hype. Young followed his instincts to travel wherever the painting process took him - galleries and critics be damned. After all these years his work is finally getting it’s due, hopefully history will justify the decisions of his life, as well. If refusing to live and work in New York can work for him, maybe there is still hope for the rest of us wandering travel artists trapped in a "New York-centric" art world. – DN