By John Green in Britain:
The people’s artist
Tuesday 05 October 2010
Stan Young is 90 years young and still painting every day.
He was born in Hanwell, west London, in 1920 into a large family. His father was a carpenter and joiner, and his mother a seamstress.
Stan left school at 14 and worked in various jobs, but with the help of one of his teachers he was given the encouragement to foster his drawing talents.
The poverty he saw around him as a result of the economic slump and later the outbreak of the Spanish civil war led him to join the Young Communist League aged only 16, and then the Communist Party at 18.
In 1941 he joined the army serving in the Middle East and in Italy. As an aide in his work as a sapper undertaking bomb-disposals, he made detailed isometric drawings of the bombs’ ignition devices. Ironically this talented draughtsmanship and his expertise in bomb disposal probably gave him his big break.
At the end of the war in Europe the army gave him the opportunity to attend the Formation College in Florence, at the Institute of Art in the grounds of the Pitti Palace. Here he discovered Renaissance art and it remained a solid influence in his later work.
When one of the new officers sent out from London talked of taking the war onwards to Soviet Russia, this only confirmed his lack of trust in the ruling class and his determination to leave the army as soon as possible. On returning to Britain he was “demobbed” and he used his ex-service grant to attend Ealing College of Art.
In the 1950s he earned his bread and butter as a freelance artist producing mainly educational material. With his wife and co-painter Muriel, they set up their own studio gallery in 1960 and helped to establish the Communist Party’s West Middlesex Artists’ Group which produced banners and posters for party campaigns and demonstrations.
He painted many industrial landscapes around the rebuilding of London after the war, especially on the Thames near Woolwich.
Young also became involved in the Artists International and exhibited at a number of their shows. In the 1970s, along with other progressive artists, he donated paintings to raise money for Vietnam‘s struggle against US aggression.
His main influences have been very much central European – from Cezanne, Modigliani, Fernand Leger and cubists like Juan Gris and Picasso. After meeting the Italian Communist and painter Renato Guttoso at an exhibition of his work in London, he came under the spell of his strong neo-realist style.
Young’s work is steeped in the realist tradition. Starting out with naturalist portraiture, impressionist landscapes and cubist-influenced industrial-dockland vistas to stylised groups of figures. Now he paints mainly groups of figures, alongside individual portraits and landscape scenes around where he now lives.
Young is an accomplished portraitist completing various commissions of party members, both local and national, including former Daily Worker women’s editor and feminist Mikki Doyle, theoretician Raji Palme Dutt, former chairman of the William Morris Society Ray Watkinson, and the Afro-American progressive icon Angela Davis.
His work is characterised by a strong feeling for colour and formal composition. Perhaps influenced by his time in Italy and the clear and vibrant light of the south, his colours are invariably ardent – he often uses contrasting or complementary primaries. In that sense his work goes against the grain of most traditional as well as contemporary British art.
A theme which he has returned to time and again over many decades is groups of musicians in various guises and poses, often multicultural. In a sense these, more than any other of his subjects, encapsulate his philosophy of life – the joy and pleasure of creating art together, what we can achieve with a unity of purpose and, through his use of brilliant colour, a vibrancy and optimism.
Although his work has been widely recognised and admired, Stan has never really achieved the fame he deserves – probably because he has refused to follow trends and fashions in the search for celebrity status and he never courted the art world’s aristocracy. He has preferred to stay close to those artists he profoundly admires and the ideas which have inspired him since his youth, and still do.
Stan lives and works with his wife Muriel in Worcester.
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