If you can read, you can understand many contemporary artworks. Though it takes talent to successfully pull it off, incorporating text into a piece of art creates accessibility for any literate viewer. Some find it difficult to connect with today's art, but if there are legible words on a canvas, an instant association takes place. Whether or not every nuance of an artist's intention is understood is insignificant -- when text is present, the artwork literally speaks to the viewer and validates their point of view. This is the beauty of art-words. Though an art school professor once warned me that artists should have a "damn good reason" to include text in an artwork, it is an effective and often hilarious method for conveying one's message.
Michael Louis Young's work attracted me because he fits into this wordy family of artists; he likes to paint letters. He is currently showing five prints, five paintings, and two sculptures of boats at Forthrite Print Shop in Oakland. His paintings incorporate popular quotes accompanied by familiar iconography -- little houses and little modes of transportation -- and his exhibition can best be described as a lighthearted portrait of destruction.
In the largest painting, a blimp spews fire from its backside, crashing and burning with the words "Never Say Die" painted in the background. In another painting, a lone arm that appears to be attached to a drowning person reaches out from beneath a dark, ominous ocean holding a sign painted with the words, "Better late than never." In most of Young's paintings, irony plus failure equals funny.
A rowboat sculpture titled Sinking, Thinking sits on the floor of the gallery. Made mostly of wood, the boat appears to have sprung a leak and the cardboard lake beneath it seems to be winning the battle. Parts of the boat are painted with a cartoon-like wood grain pattern. The rim of the boat is white, but wherever there is a chip or crack in the wood, Young painted in the stylized wood-grain finish. He created a perfectly accurate wooden boat painted to look like... a wooden boat. The sculpture is preposterously lovable and at "$1,000 or best offer," the price can't be beat.
It seems to me that Michael Louis Young wants to transport us to a simpler time in his humble, sinking boat. One painting of wooden letters on a grassy hillside made me think that perhaps the artist is trying to reiterate that even though the world is full of disappointment and tragedy, "Life Goes On."
You are the Music, While the Music Lasts is on view through December 30th, 2009.