EK Interview: Drew Young

EK_MH_Drew Young

Drew Young has been grinding out dark, dramatic, enticing art for a while. His newest series is no different, stuffed with substance, for anyone willing to take the trip with, Drew’s work forces one to pause and take a few steps down the rabbit hole. He offers guidance on where the path might go, check out his interview:

Can you tell us about your new show, Flagrance? Where does it come from?

The series is something I’ve been conceptualizing over the past 10-11 months since creating it’s catalyst piece, Aggregate, late last year. In general it’s a response to the false/cognitively-designed veneers of those around me (the classic: artist finds people phony story). However it inadvertently became much more autobiographical than I could foresee – similar to dreams where characters often represent your own feelings, frustrations, fantasies.

I normally wouldn’t push the darker narratives so much when working with a commercial gallery. However, this body of work was always planned to be exhibited in a popup format – somewhere void of profitable interest. It is itself a small jab at art-buyers in Vancouver and to an extent, in general.

I’ve done lots of appeasing gallery and client needs which usually means the work is centralized around aesthetics and steers away from challenging motifs like sexual taboos, consumption and isolation. However don’t think that I don’t understand everyones motives here. I hire hundreds of artists throughout a year to contribute to festival projects, live-paintings events and collaborative projects and the work needs to sell and gel with massive audiences. But we need to be reminded that painting is not a vehicle of expression exclusive to only part of the spectrum of human experience.

This year I was brought on for my second year as Visual Arts Director/Curator for TEDx Vancouver. Last year’s program I focused on creating large-scale multimedia installations in high-volume. The 28 touch points were on display throughout the venue for only single day. With nearly 3,000 in attendance the work was swallowed by crowds and I found the whole experience to be too overwhelming for attendees to give projects the attention they deserved. This is why TEDx Vancouver President, Jordan Kallman and I re-imagined the program as a two-parter; first a 3-day pop-up exhibition and then re-exhibited at the conference. The scope for artwork/installations was streamlined towards a traditional artwork exhibition and less over-the-top, ever-evolving, multi-media, interactive experiences (we still had those too, just less). The organization of TEDx is a regionally sub-licensed brand from the mothership conference, TED and is required to act exclusively as a non profit. What does that mean to me as a painter? Paint paintings with no external influence or consequence. Make true, powerful work.


Your work seems many tiered almost to the point of chaotic, how do you keep track of the different lines of thought going into a piece while you are working on it? How do you prepare for a piece? What is your process before you start to paint?

I’ve been scaling the amount of chaos back quite a bit this past year. I love exploring new methods of abstracting an image. Once I felt I’d built a rough foundation in realism all I wanted to do was deconstruct it. For years now I’ve been exploring methods like long/multiple-exposure reference capturing, mixing collage and oils, re-configuring finished oil paintings and utilizing Photoshop to dismantle my subject matter. With Flagrance, I wanted to utilize these methods of abstraction without the focus of the work being on technique alone. I asked myself “how do they amplify the narrative?” The work is still very busy but linear qualities are more restricted and used only when relevant.

Like many discoveries, they come when least expected. Preparing for a piece can be unpredictable and often comes from a random point of observation. It’s when I talk and interact with people that I have a sense that we’re coveting something, be it fear, narcissism or insecurity. I generally attempt to show humility and grace in order to gain someone’s trust quickly. A device of social compensation, I’m sure. However when that isn’t reciprocated, that’s when my survey of the social chasm between us begins. That place is fascinating and I see parts of myself deep in there. A place full of flagrant attitudes held inside a glass facade.

Here is where I draw inspiration and subject matter. I want to illuminate the thing that’s darkest. For Submarine I wanted to draw on the idea of alcohol’s heightening effect on self-confidence and self-aggrandizement. One night I had a conversation with a hyper-competitive and slightly drunk photographer. I found their whole situation to be pretty fucked up. Though their practice was deprived of technical ability and concept, this person somehow manage to stay afloat based on low-brow local popularity and a conceited ego. The booze had their head lost in the clouds and their hands taking selfies.

Story comes first.


Where, emotionally, were you painting from for this series? There seem to be a number of different perspectives, some are very dark in tone, like Paradise, and Sirens. Others seem more like portraiture, like Nicholas, Oshy, and Devitt. What place do each other these have in the series? What does each mean to you? What different parts of you do these ideas come from?

In general I’m pretty emotionally sporadic. My ebb and flow is unpredictable and it’s usually when I’m at a low point that I start fantasizing about paintings. It’s a place of escape where I don’t have to rely on anyone and I can express my frustrations and self-doubts candidly. Flagrance is divided into 3 mini-series of fictitious tableau’s surrounding the characters Nicholas, Devitt, and Oshy who are all vicariously acting as me or those around me. Overall the series is dark conceptually/visually because their stories come from a dark and visceral place.

Nicholas represents an indulgent narcissist that buries their inner desires because of his fear of scrutiny.


Devitt’s stuck in stasis. His lust for work and women has him paralyzed in a relationship he’s uncertain of.


Oshy feels disconnected with her generation’s social constructs and amusements. Her social anxiety pushes her to surround herself solely by those she loves and trusts, and places she feels safe and be able to explore her psyche constructively on her own.


The ideas come from all parts of myself, the best and worst, the empathetic and malicious. Even though there are a great deal of external influences, those influences rest with me for a certain reason. This is a tough question I guess it depends on how I want to respond to something that determines the emotion.

Is there a predominating feeling that you put into your work or does that change from piece to piece of session to session? Do you listen to music or do anything to intensify or encourage a certain mood when you paint?

Overall: Obscure, macabre, thought-provoking, devious.

For audio, I’m usually on the podcast tip. Keeps me working longer for some reason. RISK, 99% Invisible, Snap Judgement, This American Life, The Moth, and lots of stuff at Nerdist. Seriously though, RISK is where it’s at.

Where were you, mentally and emotionally, when you painted Sirens? What is going on in the painting? What inspired it and what does the name mean to you?

Sirens is Devitt’s fantasy and delusion. It displays his unrealistic belief that women are clamoring for his affection. It also illustrates his objectification of women on a baseline level while juxtaposed beside his symbol of escapism (the bike). This fantasy is what glows through the blinds, drawing him away from his relationship featured in the piece, Shade.

I’ve been in a relationship for over 6 years now with a break in the middle. During that break I learned that the green grass was poison, but never learned to how to completely ignore it.


What is your favorite piece of the series? Which has been the best received? Which did you work on the longest, both physically and mentally? How does it feel to finish a series? How much does the reception mean to you?

Everything is so personal that it’s impossible to have a favorite (cliche alarm sounds). There’s so many properties of each work that made engaging it unique. For some it was the narrative, others it was the painty part.

Shade was best received. It has strong curb-appeal aesthetically and the storytelling is something we all share (openly or not). I also spent the most time on that piece with 100+ hours on development/preparation and production. I kept changing the look so many times but as soon as I saw the bike shop as an environment I knew that was the spot. And I mean how much fun can I have painting Venetian blind shadows on thousands of things? (face-palm). Pain for pleasure. Sometimes complex pay off. Sometimes.

It’s been awhile (2 years) since I last produced flushed out body of work. There’s been heaps of groups shows and one-offs but it feels great to have fully dedicated myself to something way more robust.

The reception meant a lot. I built a pop-up gallery in two and half days with a small team of incredible individuals. It’s not like it was a pre-existing gallery space, so a tonne of time and consideration had to be sunk in to make a memorable and unique event happen fast and effectively. I also had to learn to put more trust in people behind the scenes. I needed multiple pillars to make this happen. Thanks Nick Pound and Devitt Brown.


Tell us about your process. What is the most ritualized part of your process when you paint? What does that part mean to you, is there anything special about it? What other rituals do you have in your life?

-Story first
-Location scouted
-Models cast/hired
-Take lots of photographs.
-Keep the story consistent but don’t restrict the photoshoot only to how you first imagined it. Be flexible, let things happen organically.
-Post-production in Photoshop. This is where I’ll be stitching lots of images together into one arrangement. -Digital colour tests, abstraction tests and experimentation with perspective and crop.
-Drawing is applied usually to a colour-saturated surface. The choice of surface colour is determined by the dominant colour in the reference. For this series especially I wanted to get skin tones to be cool (it’s a little off-putting). If you know your cools are going to be the light source then you’ll know right away shadows will shift to warm. Because the work is largely dark that would mean the piece would be largely warm. Red was used for most pieces. I broke it into a few areas of colour for Male Gaze on account I wanted to shift the overall hue from corner to corner. And in Paradise I split the base in half vertically on center with cyan and cadmium red. I did that because if you’ve ever explored psychadelics you’ll have experienced almost instantaneous emotional/temperature shifts. I wanted the viewer to feel that stepping from one side of the piece to the other was like stepping into an entirely different room.
-Moving forward, I work almost entirely in alla prima. I’m impatient and need results now. I’ll work from my reference material I’ve developed and usually approach the painting area by area.
-If I’ve intended to do some chopping up, I’ll have painted the work on archival matte board and let it dry. The next part is very freeing from the preciousness of painting tight and realistic. I’ll cut with an xacto and re-position work until I’ve got the right amount of noise or abstraction. Everything gets glued flat and trimmed on a panel.
-Varnish: Usually Golden MSA UVLS. It’s a bit sticky and tricky to ship but it looks like goddamn gem afterwards.


What’s next for you?

Well I’m coming off a crazy handful of months. TEDx Vancouver just ended, which was a 20 artist pop-up exhibition featuring 3 artists series, a 14 artist group show and 3 installations which were all re-exhibited in Rogers Arena. The Lotus Awards for advertising and design were 2 weeks ago, where I designed their stage alongside master carpenter Aaron Gullmes. This came off of Squamish Valley Music Festival where I acted as Visual Arts director/curator/coordinator. There we build a 3-storey mural castle, 160 feet of sculpture and signage for gates, one of the worlds largest mechanized kaleidoscopes, massive-scale interactive animations pieces, and a giant low-poly bear head out of plywood.

Coming up, there’s some commercial mural and sculptural builds this winter. I can’t really talk about it at the moment however. I will say this, I’ve been freelancing as a painter 4-5 years now and it’s crazy tough. Being the stubborn fuck that I am has finally started to pay off. I started a live-painting event called Snag 3 years ago and it has opened lots of unexpected doors for me. I’ve picked up lots of big projects and event installations as a result of knowing such a diverse and large community of artists in Vancouver (highest per capita in Canada). This has pulled me way outside of painting, and into contract-based creative director role, where companies ask me, “what do I want to create?”. I love painting but when I get asked this it makes me feel fresh and no longer limited to one skill set.