EK Interview: David Young

art blog - David Young - Empty Kingdom

With his eyes set on the upcoming Empty Kingdom / HOPE Campaign event at SXSW, in Austin Texas, we have taken a little time to ask David Young, D Young V, about his work passions and his goals.  D Young doesn’t shy away from the meat of the issues at hand, his discussion is relevant, intelligent and straight forward.  Read on:
Introduce yourself, what is a current obsession of your, whether musical, culinary, literary or otherwise? 

My name is D Young V, the only real obsession I have right now is to continue on as an artist and do more ambitious projects. I really should find other interests outside of art, but I’m not there yet.


Tell us about your series Armory I and II.  Are the guns real?  Models?  Replicas?  By painting them what emotion do you hope to trigger in the viewer?  Do you think turning guns into art down plays the seriousness of their danger and threat or deprives the meaning, the ultimate destructive purpose and renders useless potential devices of violence? Or neither?  Or both?

The ‘Armory’ series is an attempt to take aspects of my world and bring them out into a realistic 3D medium. The rifles I appropriate are replicas. The only fully functional weapon I’ve created thus far is a flame thrower I designed with ROTD (another artist). I’m not entirely sure what sort of emotion(s) I’m trying to create in the viewer. The world I’m interpreting through my work is a highly militaristic one. Weapons are a huge part of any military, I think by bringing the weapons out of the drawings and displaying them as individual pieces adds to the realism of my world.


I think when weapons are put on display, either in an armory or historical exhibition they (like any object) help define to the viewer the times in which they were created/used. You can get an idea of the times we live in today by having an understanding of our weapons, just as you can by viewing weapons of the past. The weapons display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC was a huge inspiration for this concept. There is much to say about a culture by the weapons they create. Many weapons of the past have detailed engravings, signatures, they may have been privately crafted/commissioned; often they contain a decor that says something of its bearer and the society they lived in. Weapons can tell of social class distinction, guild systems, different families, technology, and obviously combat. In addition to decor, different weapons are designed for different uses. From the gentleman single row fighting of the Revolutionary War, jousting of the Medieval Era, the Guerilla style fighting seen throughout much of the world today, etc. Most weapons are appropriate to an era and culture, they all have a trace of history that can be interpreted by future generations.

As far as emotions are concerned, the weapons I display are not necessarily meant to prove fear, shock or pride. I suppose this is what is usually associated with weapons. The weapons I display are meant to be seen as firearms that have been re-appropriated by a future culture. I painted them the way I did to imply that they belong to specific groups in my world. I generally use blue(s) and white to paint the weapons because those colors are generally associated with peace. I wanted to imply that the bearers of these weapons could be a peace keeping force. I feel weapons are a necessity in any culture, but are not always used on the offensive. In a sense these weapons could even evoke the idea of hope. Though these firearms are meant to be representations of a post- apocalyptic world, their use is meant to enforce peace and advance people into a new era. In that sense, there could be hope after our world (as we know it) ends.


Do I think that turning guns into art plays down the seriousness of their danger to the viewer? I’m not entirely sure how to answer that question, I suppose it depends on the art in particular. As far as my work is concerned, one of the most effective ways to evoke the message I have is through the use of artistically appropriating firearms at this point. There is no doubt as to how destructive guns are. They are designed for only one purpose, that is to kill efficiently. A gun can be seen as a very powerful symbol. It can be used to repress/oppress or liberate. Guns are seen throughout propaganda from most industrialized cultures throughout the world in last century. They are always used to evoke a sense of struggle. This struggle is often defined through overcoming an enemy. Guns are seen throughout the Emory Douglas posters for the Black Panther Party hoping to achieve equality during the Civil Rights Movement. Guns are represented in WWII propaganda from every nation involved. Whether it was the Nazi or US recruiting posters, the guns were always prevalent. Guns in propaganda are meant display a sense of independence, aggression and pride in order to rally people to a particular cause. I’m sure one seduced by that propaganda may have a different attitude towards that cause once they are recruited.

In the end, guns kill and destroy lives. There is no end to the destruction they have caused. An ex- soldier told me once how much he loved training for the military. He had a huge sense of pride towards the particular country whose military he signed up for. He loved going out at night and using infrared goggles, shooting rifles, etc. Once it came to war though, he absolutely hated it. He spent years overcoming PTSD, some of the stories he told me were horrific. To this day he still has that same sense of pride in the country he fought for, he did three tours.


To answer your question more precisely, I think most of it comes down to the viewers interpretation of guns represented in the work and what they take from it. I personally do not think that my work takes away from the actual destructive uses a firearm has. However, someone with more experience dealing with firearms may have a highly different opinion. Thus far, I have not encountered any problems in that arena.


For much of your work you’ve chosen to make the use of only three or so colors, red, blue and yellow, as well as black and white.  What does such the simplicity, the use of the primary colors, mean to you?  What does each color mean to you?  Have you studied color theory at all?  Do you take advantage of it? 

To be honest, color is a relatively new thing to me, I only started incorporating color into my work a little over one year ago. I have never taken a class in color theory, most of it I figure out on the spot. If I need to assistance or want to learn more I consult other artists or go to the art store to ask for advice. As I mentioned earlier my color choices (especially on the weapons) are meant to evoke a sense of peace and cultural advancement, despite the violent nature of my work. I had originally based my colors from the UN flag. Now I often look at colors used in the military or urban machinery. There is often a constant in the yellows, blues, greens, oranges, etc. used in construction vehicles, dumpsters, scissor lifts, cranes, etc, that you see all over the city. I call them ‘utility colors’. I try to reflect that in more recent work.


Do you think a parallel can be drawn between the movements of the 60s and those of the present?   How do you think the art and the attitude of this generation and response are different from that of the 60s?  What are the differences that you see immediately?  What ideological differences do you see in the issue each generation is fighting for?

Its only been the difference of a generation since 1960’s, it seems as though the world has changed much since then. I’m sure the art and attitude is different from that of the 1960’s (although I didn’t live back then). I think one of the bigger differences between then and now is class divide. People really seem to be getting poorer and poorer, while the wealthy continue to climb. It seems that we have become a nation of debt. It seems as though this has been enforced upon us. The cost of college is astronomical, most jobs still require that you have one or more degrees, yet often don’t provide the means to pay back those student loans for the education that job requires. Heath insurance is pretty much unaffordable to most people. The cost of living is on an every steady incline. There seems to be so much more that one has to do to survive. I think younger people today were brought up with this illusion that if they went to school and worked hard then their dreams would be attainable. In reality it’s nearly impossible to get ahead these days. The general cost of living does not match the wages people make. Minimum wage in most places is a joke. Minimum wage in San Francisco is the highest in the nation, yet if you made three times that minimum wage you’d still be struggling to live here.

I think in 1960’s issues were more clear cut. I don’t think people had it easier back then by any stretch of the imagination. However, I don’t think they had the same distractions and debt. Everything now is far too complex and intertwined. It’s hard to see the truth. There are wars being fought that no one really understands. There are a billion causes that people protest and rally for. The environment is changing because of us, yet there is not much we can do about it because of they way we want to live and the money involved in changing it. The average individual is bombarded with so much information on a daily basis that it’s hard to keep track of any one particular thing. In addition to that when one has to work two jobs just to pay their rent on time, it’s hard to get attached to anything. I think the 1960’s was a struggle for rights and freedom. Equality, The Vietnam War and expression were the issues of those days in America. Its seems that this country was going through a stage of drastic change. There seemed to be an unwillingness to follow in the same steps of the generations before. I think the ‘enemy’ in those days was right there in front of your face. I don’t think its anything like that anymore. Its harder to envision the future, and more difficult to envision a proper alternative.


Would you consider street art a single art movement?  Or are the disparate elements, stencil, pieces, etc, different enough to garner distinctions?

Thats hard to say, the definition of ‘street art’ has changed so much in the last few years that term in itself is starting to seem obsolete. If anything I’ve just lumped everything into either Graffiti or ‘Urban Contemporary’. It seems Graffiti has a very specific set of rules to follow by, so its far easier to define and pinpoint. ‘Street art’ on the other hand, does not. There are so many artist with a background in graffiti that do ‘street art’. There are others that do graffiti and then have a separate name for their ‘street art’. Then there are people with no artistic background that do ‘street art’. If one puts up work illegally its considered street art, but if the same artist does legal pieces on the street is it still street art? I have no fucking idea anymore. The term street art is becoming so complex it’ll soon be hard to define all the sub divisions that go into it. It’ll be like ‘rock n’ roll’, that term has no concrete meaning anymore, even its sub divisions are obsolete. The term ‘punk rock’ has like 50 sub categories and cross categories, etc. I suppose you can simply try to explain things by media and tools, ie: spray can, stencil, mural, wheat paste, etc. I just say ‘Urban Contemporary’ now because it lumps it all together in one. It could be in a gallery, alleyway, billboard, cafe, museum…I don’t give a fuck anymore.


In two hundred years do you think there will be organizations trying to preserve street art?  Or is it part of the DNA of street art that it decays and is painted over/torn down? 

In two hundred years or less there will definitely be organizations trying to preserve street art. There are people that chip away entire walls that have a Banksy stencil on it. Fuck, I would too if I could stand to make a profit. People think thats ridiculous, I totally get it. If something has value you save it and/or try to earn a profit for it. There are entire museum exhibitions for street artists, a lot of these artists sell their work for small fortunes. There are people that tear down pasted posters and hang them in their living rooms. Thats nothing new, Goerges Braque wrote of tearing down and collecting Talous Lautrec posters in turn of the century Paris.

Sure, part of the DNA of putting anything on the street is that it could disappear, buffed, destroyed, etc. This could be a painting on an outdoor wall or your beat up couch. However, that certainly is not the point of it. People who put up work want it to stay up. A lot of artists rely on photography/internet to stay up. Its almost as if the street art piece itself is irrelevant, its the facebook/instagram likes that matter most. If it wasn’t for social networking street art would not be as nearly as popular. In an odd way, people are really making ‘internet art’. The whole urban decay thing is interesting, but I think people romanticize that way too much.


Is there something inherently human to street art that it is always changing, evolving?

Yes, street art is an aspect of human behavior. It’s part of that need to write your name everywhere and be known/remembered. If it’s not that, it’s getting your message across to as many people as possible without having to go through the proper channels. The ‘street’ part is obvious, the ‘art’ part is not so much. If I write some random slogan on a wall is it ‘street art’? If I write the same slogan but include a stick figure, does then become ‘street art’. I have no idea. The definition of art is always changing. People and cultures are always changing. Whatever they put out onto the street will change along with it. It will be an expression of that time and culture. The stuff we see now (street art) pertains to us now, generations from now it will hold its inspiration, influence and historical importance. Years from now things will be different, so new means of expression will filter out. I’m sure they’re will be work on the street in the years to come, but it may take on a wholly new definition and meaning. The term ‘street art’ may no longer apply. Often when things evolve they branch out and become new things entirely. Saying ‘street art’ in the future may be like saying ‘rock n’ roll’ now. It could be such a general term that much more specification will be needed to explain just what your trying to convey by using that term.


Do you think there are street artists of the same caliber as the classical masters?

Yes, look at Dan Witz and El Mac


How did you get involved with Empty Kingdom?   How do you see their mission aligns with yours?  What do you hope to achieve at SXSW?  What have you planned for your piece?  The event will provide an opportunity to address a community on the subject of public art, how do you intend to address them, whether through art or conversation?

I got involved with Empty Kingdom through Micah LeBrun of 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco. It seems to me that Empty Kingdom’s mission is to promote and work with artists, my mission is to create art, so it works out. At SXSW I hope to achieve doing a great mural, getting work up and meeting people involved in the arts I have not before. I’m also excited to be a part of a project taking place in a city I have not been to before. I’ve heard only good things about Austin, TX. As far as addressing a community on public art, I plan on doing that through creating public art. Im not sure what I’m going to paint yet, but I’ll figure it out soon.

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