The Crazy Brain: An Interview with Alex Young

By Jason Michel


Alex Young’s brain is a beautiful thing to behold. All those neurons zooming around & banging into each other, driven by pop culture, Art & Music.  I was lucky enough to have a chat with Mr. Young & his brain …

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Q1: Hey, Alex! Tell us something about Alex Young that we may not know.

I’m a London based illustrator and artist. Cover artist for Pulp Press when not putting on my own lowbrow print shows. I have lots of high friends in low places.

Q2: You seem to be able to effortlessly mix styles from Lowbrow (Robert Williams, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth), Graffiti, Comic to some beautiful pointillistic portraits.

Who were your original inspirations?

What was it about their work that grabbed you by the proverbials?

There’s a lot of artists that have inspired me. Here’s a handful;

In the fine art world, Wassily Kandinsky on ways to think about painting, learning to draw first before you stylize anything. Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon & Chuck Close for brush strokes and life drawing.

Lowbrow – Jim Phillips, V.Courtlandt Johnson, Marc McKee for the skateboard graphics. Ed Roth for Ratfink.

From comics – Bill Sienkiewicz, Simon Bisley, for their paint/mixed media work, Brian Bolland for the inking. 2000ad artists in general.

Graffiti has influenced me for being a no-nonsense-balls out-risk-everything type of activity.

Q3: How long did it take you to find your own style? What elements just fitted together when you thought, “Holy Shit! This is what I want to show people!”.

I think that’s an ongoing process. Being satisfied with a style means you’d no longer push it and your work would stagnate. I hope I’m never satisfied with anything I do so that my styles keep developing.

I see and like so much art work I’d find it hard to focus on just one style and do that for ever. I’d like my style to be seen as varied.

Q4: How important is it for a visual artist to get out of their “comfort zone” & experiment?

Very important. I try to make myself create images I think I can’t do and learn how to do them as I go. I try to push myself beyond what I know I’m capable of. The majority of my images are created under feelings of nervousness rather than confidence. This way, the sense of achievement is higher at the end, but then the bar has been raised so it’s back to the drawing board and off we go again.

Q5: What’s your opinion on the so-called Highbrow vs Lowbrow?

It’s all relevant. Both have their place and their audience. All of it is art history. To me it’s a bit like asking, “blues vs. metal?” They’re just two parts of a bigger thing. I’m a fan of both.

Q6: Seeing as you mentioned music, where did the idea for your picture “Subcultures” come from? It seems to me to be the musical equivalent of what your art is.

The idea came from a few different places. Compositionally it’s inspired by old Justice League America comic covers. They had a running theme of putting loads of super heroes on the covers stacked up like that. ‘Subcultures’ is my normal person version of it.

I also drew influence from walking down any given busy street. I’ve caught myself making snap judgements about people at times. Something I do all the time when in a busy place but normally don’t notice. There’s a split second when you look at someone, judge them and move on. People give you the hints about themselves by the fashion choices they make and you cross reference that with your own memory and experiences. But it’s all judgement and not fact. I wanted to create an image that was like a wallpaper or fabric print that, viewed from a distance was just a wash of people, a crowd. Up close it’s meant to be scanned over so the viewer can make their own snap judgements about the individuals.

I’ve always liked the idea of images being able to be viewed from a distance as one thing then studied up close where it tells more of the story.

Q7: I believe you’re working on a hardcore gig/exhibition? What’s that all about?

I’ve had a couple of solo shows of my paintings and been involved in several group shows but I’ve found them to be a bit stuffy and not very representative of what I’m all about. Private views have always grated. Being on your best behaviour, schmoozing, listening to music you had no say in, having to explain your work to the strokey-chin crowd who really just want to buy something that matches their scatter cushions. Also, I found that as soon as I handed a finished canvas over to a gallery I suddenly couldn’t afford it. It’s a strange feeling to labour over something then suddenly have no way of getting it back. All this lead me to ask, “how would I do it?”

Firstly I’d draw what I want to draw without trying to second guess/pander to an audience.

Then I’d sell the stuff cheap so the prices didn’t exclude anyone and everyone could walk away with something if they wanted. I get a lot of young skaters and graffiti writers emailing me saying, “love your work, hope one day I can afford a piece”. I want kids like that to be able to buy my work. They’ve been my biggest supporters over the years. I don’t want my art to just be for rich 30-somethings etc. and exclude people with less cash.

The other thing I’d address is the music and stuffy atmosphere. Rather than have everyone tip-toe-ing around watching their p’s and q’s to some inoffensive trip hop soundtrack, have everyone kicking off, having a laugh, enjoying the music, buying prints, ruining prints, not caring because they cost next to nothing.

So I teamed up with fellow illustrator Scott Move and we started to put exactly that in place. A2 black and white screenprints on good quality paper for ridiculously cheap, free beer, free gig and canvases as prizes throughout the night. We’re also having other people there with similar ethics who are doing their own thing, working from the ground on up to get their work out there. Pulp Press will have a stall there for their books and Sacré Coeur will have a stall and a bevy of models walking around showing off their jewelry and accessory work. I want it to be a big party to showcase our newest work and be an alternative to the stuffiness of the usual private view.

Q8: How difficult is it to combine art with music?

When it comes to putting on a gig at a print show we’ll have to see what happens. The format will change a bit so it won’t be a full hour long set in one. It’ll be split up over the night. So more like 3 or 4 songs at a time. Give people time to look at the artwork as well as be entertained by the acts.

Q9: You’re the “in-house” artist for Danny Bowman’s mighty Pulp Press, how did that collaboration come about?

Danny and I have been mates for a long time. Over the years lots of my pals have asked me to do artwork for them, some of it good, some bad but what Danny is doing I back 100%. What he’s doing with pulp fiction fits in really well with what I’m doing with my prints. No nonsense, pure action, straight up fun, no further questions. Try to NOT enjoy the content!

As a result of the Pulp Press attitude I get asked to create images that I actually want to paint. I really love all the old pulp covers, pin-up paintings, B-movie posters etc. It was a great era for illustration. I’m relatively new to that whole style but pulp press has allowed me to find my feet and I’ll hopefully master it one day.

Q10: You seem to use an almost “classic” Pulp style for a lot of your covers. How important is it to collaborate with the writer?

It’s different with every author. So far, most of them have had a very concrete idea of what they want as a cover. They tell me, I paint it. That’s the collaboration right there. I normally don’t even speak to the authors. I get my instructions from Danny, scrawled on a bit of bog paper, thrown on my desk accompanied by some cantankerous mutterings.

Q11: & finally, any future, far flung plans or ambitions, as yet, unrealised?

I’m hoping this thing with the prints really takes off as it affords me the time to draw exactly what I want which in turn advances my skills more rapidly.

I’m already planning the next one and getting some of my work printed on fancy bra and knicker sets as giveaways. Sounds like a good idea.

Besides that I’m slowly shifting everything towards illustrating comics. It hasn’t seemed to matter how old I get I still believe comic artists to be the finest illustrators there are. They have the ability to draw everything from any angle. That’s some achievement.

There’s talk in the pipeline of Danny (Pulp Press) and I working together on a graphic novel based on his latest release, “Jailbait Justice”.

After that, long term, I’d like to go into preproduction for films, concept design etc.

All the time still painting. Need more hours in the day…


Find out more about Alex’s work & contact him :
http://thebrainpages.tumblr.com/
www.brainofalexyoung.com

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