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David Young V Interview

Written by Shaun Roberts   
Friday, 08 July 2011 11:28
David Young V is on a mission. Shuttling between two studio spaces in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco— frequently in the dead of night—he engages in the business of recovering fragments from a future world. To hear him speak about the tomorrow he foresees; a world of zealots, martyrs, psychotic orphans and armed bike couriers, one is reminded of Mad-Max… if it had more military training and dabbled in cryptography and linguistics. The hard edged, high contrast, near religious iconography of David’s new work is an encrypted enigma, gnashing it’s teeth at you, challenging you to decipher it. It wants you to look hard. Maybe it will tell you…if you make an effort. — Shaun Roberts

David Young V’s show “Make an Effort” opens Saturday July 9th, 7pm at White Walls Gallery on 835 Larkin St (@Geary), San Francisco.

D Young V, Are you actually the fifth David in your family?

Yeah, my father is David and it goes back five generations, but it got restarted, so it really goes back about eight people. The original David Young III got killed so his brother named his son after this guy. So the son became the first in my line.

Were there a lot of creative people in the Young family line?

No, there wasn’t a lot of artistic people in my family.

Then how did you get involved in art?

It’s all I really know, I’ve been doing art for so long...I’ve always wanted to do it. I’ve been doing it my whole life and I never want to stop. I was always drawing on the backs of my papers and on tests during class. I loved free drawing sessions, I always had fun in art class. I never really liked art projects, I always just liked drawing whatever I wanted to draw. Honestly I don’t think I was ever that good at it, but I just enjoyed it. I didn’t decide to take it seriously until I was in college, I didn’t even know what a fine artist was but if it let me do anything I wanted to do, then I’ll try to be a fucking fine artist.

What was your work like back then?

Well when I was 18 I was doing these Micron pen drawings but they were totally different in nature, they were much more intricate than the work I do now, and they were more fantasy based. After that, I really got into abstract art using charcoals as well as murals. I was really into de Kooning, Pollock, Basquiat, Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky and other 20th Century Abstract art. I was obsessed with that for a number of years and I was just continually making abstract work.

What was it about Abstract that attracted you to it so much?

It was free. There were no rules, I didn’t have to focus on every detail and I could get gestural. Stuff from my subconscious would really come through, I would be thinking of something or feeling something and I would just start drawing that without even realizing it. I’d light up a cigarette and I’d find myself drawing a smoke-like figure without noticing. It was just psychologically very interesting to me. It was bordering on Carl Jung’s stuff too, I was getting into him and his work at that point.

Do you still see bits of that in your current work?

Not as much really, I think now I’m starting to get more into symbols, numbers and codes.

Tell me more about that.

Well if you look at it through the narrative I’m creating, I’m implying the idea of rebuilding language or creating new languages that fit better with the course humanity has taken in this world I’m creating. From an aesthetic point of view I think I’m personally trying to express something that needs to be deciphered and I can’t put it into words or even images.

So is there a message to be deciphered in the work?

Right now, I’m just implying that there’s a code, but it’s not literally a code. However, if I still hold faith in that Jungian subconscious thing then perhaps I *am* actually unconsciously coding something. Maybe it could be broken by somebody else.

What’s the world like in this narrative you’ve been crafting?

I’m creating a world that’s re-creating itself after the world before it fell apart. It’s actually our world 200 years from now that fell apart and, after x amount of generations, the world from my narrative emerged. Humanity would have progressed and created forms of communication that were higher than words to convey meaning. There’s also an element of Orwellian “Newspeak” to it ie the shortening of words to convey a point. In a sense, I see we’re starting to do that with text messages, by abbreviating “Oh my God” to OMG and so on.

I get a lot of ideas from learning about the Renaissance and how they were building up this new culture by reinterpreting ideas from antiquity. For example the technology to create cement was lost during the medieval era and it had to be rediscovered. I have a feeling people back then filtered out a lot of the old information and only took what was relevant to their needs. So they were reinterpreting a society to create a new society. People from my narrative are doing the same thing, they’ve found some of our literature, our mathematics and have deciphered and reinterpreted us.

I see you’re using more symbols and geometry in your latest work too, what’s driving you to start framing your figures in lines and grids?

I don’t know. Looking at it on one level, it’s an aesthetic choice and it’s something new to play with, it’s afforded me the chance to use new tools like compasses and rulers. I measure everything out now, even the placement of the letters. It’s really fun, I’m using numbers to create the piece and I’m using numbers in the piece. I see it as a natural evolution for me.

From a narrative point of view I’ve made a conscious effort to start fusing symbols, geometry, and shapes that imply order and structure. I’ve been thinking about the necessity of a society to have order, and although that order can be amended, changed and refit to new circumstances you still need to have some sort of structure. Society needs some way of policing people, be it a police department, volunteers or militia otherwise people would go fucking crazy and nothing can be built.

Despite the fact that I’m into punk rock and certain aspects of anarchism, I do value the necessity for government, for police, for military, they’re a part any functioning society. I recognize that order and then I fuse it together with elements of change and rebellion because you can’t have one without the other.

So you’re saying order and chaos are part of the same cycle?

Yeah, I used to talk about it all the time when I was a young boy, the necessity to destroy something in order to create something. In a way I’m exploring the contradictions between military order and anarcho-punk.

Is there something appealing to you about the concept of “starting over”?

Oh yeah completely. I can’t really comment on other countries because I haven’t done that much traveling, but I’m frustrated by how accessible things are in America. There’s this sense of entitlement that I experience a lot when I deal with people, it seems that people don’t really understand the concept of sacrifice any more, I hate to say it but people don’t seem to have any “grit” in their life. It definitely applies to me too, I’ve never had to starve before, I’ve never had to fight for a cause, I’ve never had to kill a person and I’ve never really had any one try to oppress me. Generally people will take the easier solution to any given problem and I think that way of living filters down and manifests itself into a lot of different things in our lives: our art, our jobs, and the way we handle situations. We find ways to rationalize taking the easy way so we don’t need to work hard, we don’t need to work through any frustrations, we don’t need to think.

Give me an example.

IPhones. It’s gotten to the point where people wouldn’t even ask someone for directions, technology connects us to each other but it isolates us too. Yeah I can get connected to some dude that I went to 8th grade with and we can keep up with “what we’re doing with our lives”. I can find out if someone just went to go buy eggs at the grocery store cause they posted it on Facebook. That’s great and all but it makes you miss out on the little important things, say you were walking down the street and you needed to find “54 Market St.” so you whip out your iPhone and you bring it up on the map and it may or may not tell you what you need to know. Really all you needed to do was just ask a store owner or somebody on the street.

It closes you off to good chance occurrences and happy accidents.


There’s also a street art component to your work right? What are your reasons for doing that work?

I see it like a sport. I like the challenge of it. I simply like getting up, I like it when people see the image. It opens up an entirely new method of expression for me. By putting work up on the street it lowers a lot of the restrictions and pressures associated with showing in a gallery and you get your work seen by a far wider audience, which personally as an artist is really rad. It’s not an act of rebellion for me, let’s put it that way. In fact, now that I’m getting more into it I have to realize that I’m associated with this entire group of people that are doing the same thing. In a sense, I do have to conform to certain things: I have to up my game, I need to give them more respect by doing better, more elaborate work. Not only so that fellow street artists take me seriously but to also show that I have respect for the craft. If somebody is doing a dope piece, then you want to do a dope piece. If someone is out there doing easy shit, it lessens the craft.

Who do you work with out in the street?

Eddie Colla primarily. I’ve known him for almost two years now. When I first met him I was doing street art on and off for a while but not as seriously, I’d just go out once a month or once every couple months and put pieces up. I didn’t even have the right equipment to do it, I was just trying to figure it out as I went. Eddie was far more advanced than I was and helped me out a great deal. We became good friends and collaborators and as a result I really have to credit Eddie for showing me not just the ins and outs of the street art world but also the process of how things operate. Everything from how to mix my wheat paste, what tools to use, to the fastest way to put up a piece. Also learning about what I should hit, what I shouldn’t hit, the challenge of doing something or even turning down certain spots and how to look out for police. I absorbed just tons of information that I wouldn’t have gained by going it alone. It was a friendship and collaboration but in a lot of ways it was also an apprenticeship for me.

You’re known for several striking wheat paste graphics, one of them being the “War Nun” image, how did that come about?

She was just this random woman I found online, I put that cloth over her head...I didn’t even intend for her to look religious until some people who saw it in L.A. started calling it “The Nun of War”. I just rolled with that and started to think of her as a character that helped develop the society in my narrative; she is a martyr, she died in order for that world to come into being.

What other street pieces do people associate you with?

I have some other basic silhouettes of soldiers with symbols on them that I’ve put up, I’ve put up images of this guy “Patch” who’s actually a real guy from my neighborhood in the Tenderloin, it was a collaboration with Sean Desmond from The Tenderloin Project.

There was also the “Fashionable” piece I was putting up for a little while, that piece was again dealing with the martyr idea. At the time I was researching about martyr groups in wars, people who commit suicide for a cause. I wondered how it would be like if martyrdom was a cool pop-culture thing to do. So the piece was a guy wearing a suicide bomb vest with a Coco Chanel belt and I had the word “Fashionable” at the bottom in the Coca-Cola font.

What’s the focus of this new body of work and where does it fit in your previous shows?

I see the new work as an evolution of my first pieces shown at Babylon Falling, that work was more Mad Max-ish, punk rock and militaristic, none of the figures had faces, just silhouettes and shapes of bodies and gear. My second show “Neighborhood Watch” emphasized on the vehicles of that world, converted DPT cars, APCs with Tenderloin stickers on them. Then the Gallery Three show began to reveal more recognizable people and the language of that society. So I think this show takes it one step further and starts to incorporate not only more specific characters but also symbols and codes implying elements of belief and faith of that society.

You’re starting to incorporate actual hand prints of models and collaborators into your work as well, what’s the thought behind that process?

I wanted the person being portrayed to be as much of the piece as you or I. It’s a way of adding a part of their identity to the piece and simultaneously their seal of approval to both the concept of the work and their participation in it. I wanted the people taking part in the project to be more then simply a reference.

How many hours have you spent on this new body of work so far?

Fuck dude, I don’t know. Some days it’s like 9 or 10 hours, other days it’s like 2 hours, I could easily go a full day working on this shit though. And not just the drawing, it’s making the canvases, getting wood cut, nailing it all together, doing my matte mediums. And if you include taking on contract jobs to pay for the materials to make the art, then it’s just crazy amounts of hours I put into the pieces. Materials are so costly right now, I need to take jobs repainting apartments in order to fucking buy these frames, so if you include all that, you could say I just work on my art constantly.

Why did you title the show “Make an Effort?”

Three reasons. First off it’s a reference to one of my favorite album titles 'Make an Effort' by DC hardcore band “Government Issue” from the early 1980's. As far as the theme of my work goes, it’s the idea of people working together to form a new society. Third, considering how much effort, time and money I put into this show — its my personal affirmation.

David Young V
“Make An Effort” at White Walls Gallery
July 9- July 30, 2011

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