David X Young
1929 – 2001
We’re thrilled to have select pieces by David X Young. David is founder of the legendary Jazz Loft, a Fulbright Scholar to Haiti, and prolific, diverse artist. In many ways, Young was more of a Renaissance artist than a modern one. He could draw like DaVinci or cartoon like Carl Barks, play with color like Cezanne or emulate the raw compositions of DeKooning. In addition to a painter, he was an adept photographer, filmmaker, editor and writer.
For over 60 years, Young was a dedicated, prolific artist who got his start during the period of Abstract Expressionism. Like other artists of this period, he struggled with his internal demons: a dark childhood and an early success he worked throughout his life to replicate. When David created art, his turmoil quieted down and the art he produced inspired and sustained him.
Born just a few short months after the infamous stock market crash in 1929, David “Benton” Young was only two-days old when his father, Nelson, a saxophonist for the Bix Beiderbecke jazz band, committed suicide. His maternal grandparents raised him in Cape Cod, instilling their Puritan values, while his mother Christine wrote pulp romances and entertained admirers. With no traditional role models, David grew up with an uncertain identity – he actually thought his mother was his sister and his father was only spoken of with disdain.
“My passion was originally more for music – jazz – than painting. Painting was something I could do. Music I wasn’t allowed to do, and the mystery and beauty of it was a great magnet for me.”
Young’s career as a fine artist began almost effortlessly. As a sophomore at the Mass School of Art, an art instructor, Lawrence Kupferman, brought his student work to New York and arranged for Young to have a one-man show at The Mortimer Levitt Gallery. He was only 21 years old. Certain that he had ‘made it’, David moved from Cape Cod to NYC and changed his middle initial to “X”, thereby turning his common name into an uncommon one.
“Boston was culturally dead as nails in the fifties. The vanguard action was all New York, the real painters and the best jazz musicians as well. One had to go there or stagnate.”
However, the art scene was not as open to Young as he expected and the promised success was fleeting. Instead, David immersed himself in NYC’s underground jazz scene. David designed album covers (one of which currently hangs in The Whitney Museum in New York), sketched at jam sessions and mingled in a bohemian circle which included then-unknown artists such as Jackson Pollock, William Dekooning, and Franz Kline as well as notable encounters with legends like Jack Kerouac, Charlie Parker and Salvador Dali. In the fifties, David shared a loft in the flower district with LIFE photographer W. Eugene Smith. Dubbed the “Jazz Loft”, for five years David hosted weekly jazz sessions where musicians as diverse as Thelonious Monk, Pee Wee Russell, Zoot Sims and Charles Mingus regularly played. “I would go to sleep listening to (Thelonious) Monk playing the piano directly below where my bed was. At the time it seemed no big deal…”
In 1955 he was granted a Fulbright Scholarship to Haiti during the infamous “Papa Doc” reign. Enchanted by the combination of African and French influences, Haitian art and culture became a key theme in his work. For over three decades he visited the island where he painted, filmed and studied its Voudun culture. The paintings available here are part of a series called The Haitian Energy Field. These paintings, all watercolors on paper, were completed in the late 1970’s under the hot Haitian sun where the paint dried quickly on the paper. This technique allowed Young unusual precision with a medium known to be quite difficult to control.
A passionate artist, he applied himself to his art with the Puritian work ethic he learned from his grandfather. Rejecting his formal education as a ‘waste of time’, he studied on his own, mixing tempera paint with powdered pigment and egg yolks, painting with translucent glazes in the style of Rembrant, developing his own photographs in a darkroom he designed and built.
Young mingled with the elite and influential and had numerous notable admirers of his work throughout his lifetime. During his career he established connections with artists William DeKooning, Jackson Pollack, Salvador Dali, Herb Kalem and W. Eugene Smith, among others.
For David X Young, it was only when he stopped breathing that his creative drive was extinguished. He passed away from emphysema on May 22, 2001, leaving a great volume of work, spanning drawings, paintings, photographs, films, scripts and book concepts.
Visit davidxyoung.com for more examples of David X. Young’s work.
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