The Sparkly Story Behind Russell Young’s New Exhibition, ‘Dreamland’

By Olivia Emily

6 months ago

Maddox Gallery’s latest exhibition is dazzling


Following his debut solo show with Maddox Gallery last winter, British-American artist Russell Young is back in London, continuing his exploration of celebrity with an aptly glittering array of works, utilising an unusual material: diamond dust. Here’s everything you need to know about ‘Dreamland’ before you visit.

Russell Young’s ‘Dreamland’ At Maddox Gallery, Berkeley Street

Pinning up Russell's artwork

Dreamland is aspirational in its intent, in its gesture,’ Russell Young tells Country & Town House. ‘[The subjects] are the loves of my life growing up. These are the people that I was influenced by as a child.’ Jimi Henrix, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger: these famous faces grace the walls of Maddox’s Berkeley Street gallery, iconic images coloured, translated and transformed by Young to a striking effect.

‘I’ve always dealt with American culture, mainly from the ‘60s and ‘70s,’ Young says, referring to a body of work to date that has explored the beautiful sham of the American dream and the dark side of fame. With ‘Dreamland’: ‘I’m looking inward a little back to the UK,’ says Young, who was born in the North of England before moving to California later in life. ‘Jagger, Kate Moss, The Beatles, even Hendrix really found his first success in the UK. It’s been nice looking at some of the British icons – some of the people that are significant to myself, in the UK.’

Dreamland’ joins his ongoing collection, ‘Heroes + Heroines’, in demonstrating Young’s signature analogue processes: hand-pulled canvases, image cropping, Warholian silkscreen printing, vibrant hand-mixed paints. As you move around the gallery, you might notice a unique shine as the paintings catch and bounce the light: this is thanks to Young’s use of diamond dust.

Screen printing outside

‘I hand mix all my own colours, and I get pigments from Florence and all around the world,’ Young tells us. ‘For the screenprinting, I work with my master printer, and there’s probably five other master printers in the studio helping us. And we literally hand pull and push the ink through the screen. If you look at that Hendrix piece and the detail in the jacket, it’s phenomenal. I looked at it, and I don’t even know how we did that, because when you put diamond dust onto a painting, it’s a veil, it’s a layer, it’s like putting cling film on it. It sort of deadens what you see underneath, so to be able to see that detail and still have the contrast and the energy coming from the painting… I think that’s just a phenomenal piece. How on earth did we do that?’.

Well, how did he do it? Let’s get into the nitty gritty: Young and his master printer first utilised diamond dust after inheriting Andy Warhol’s old printing press along with inks, paints and bags of bits and bobs. One day, the duo came across a bag of Warhold’s diamond dust. ‘I still have the painting that we applied that to,’ Youngs says. ‘The second we put it on and held it up and pinned it to the wall, we were both stunned.’ Since then, Young has been refining the process to remarkable effect, cutting diamonds to different sizes to create different levels of reflectiveness and to suit different sized artworks.

Images of Marilyn Monroe on a scroll

The fun story? ‘I put this huge pile of diamond dust on the floor at night. I pin all my paintings up, I turn the lights off, lock the studio, and Tinkerbell comes in at night and spreads it all around,’ Young quips. ‘I don’t really know how it’s done.’

As intrigued as we are in the ‘how’, it’s also the ‘why’ that captivates us. Other than a layer of sparkle, what does diamond dust add to a work? ‘I wanted there to be something almost sculptural about my paintings – to add a three dimensional layer to my paintings,’ Young tells us. ‘I knew I wanted them to be a little bit more glamorous and luxurious. I had all these describing words in my head, like a list. And my master printer and I tried for about two years to find out what that extra dimension was.’

Marilyn Crying (Siren Blue) 2019. Russell Young

MARILYN CRYING, 2018
Siren Blue
Acrylic, Oil Based Ink and Diamond Dust Hand Pulled Screenprint on Linen
157 x 122 cm

Inherent in diamonds is, of course, luxury. And this elevated material pairs well with Young’s interests. For many of his iconic subjects, stardom was tinged with tragedy. ‘There’s always an underlying edge to these people,’ he says. ‘Dreamland’ includes an image of Marilyn Monroe crying following her divorce with Joe DiMaggio; Young’s image is around five percent of the original photograph, cropping out the layers, paparazzi and cars. ‘I just saw this vulnerability, this beauty and vulnerability in that image. But only by coming in close – when you can almost see the newspaper dots – does it have the energy and sentiment and meaning and power that that image has.’ The result of the diamond dust, when applied to these subjects, is an arresting dissection of celebrity, exposing the darkness simmering below the glittering facade.

But as well as this, it makes for a delightful sight. ‘When we had the opening a couple of weeks ago, I looked in some people’s eyes and there was pure delight,’ Young says. ‘They were smiling with their eyes. There was just happiness in their eyes. That, in a sense, is enough for me – to be able to do that to people. That’s all I need.’

‘Dreamland’ Highlights

The pieces Russell Young is most excited for visitors to see…

Hendrix Wild Thing Triptych (Wild White) 2023. Russell Young

Visit

Russell Young’s ‘Dreamland’ runs from 1 December 2023 to 7 February 2024 at Maddox Gallery Berkeley Street.

12 Berkeley St, London W1J 8DT

maddoxgallery.com