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Gavin's Underground

January Gallery Stroll: Daren Young & Julia Voye

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2009-01-21 -

Back to Gallery Stroll I go. This past Friday the Stroll returned from a six week hiatus over the holiday season, starting 2009 with a mixture of new galleries and old favorites.

This month I made my way over to Art Access over on fifth west to check out two artists. A milti-exhibit for one, and a first time display for the second. Daren Young who brought in his mixed media art entitled HOMO/evocative, and self-taught photographer Julia Voye with her collection of up close works. I got a chance to chat with both of them about their work and the showing, along with several photos from that evening.

Daren Young

http://darenyoung.com/

Gavin: Hi Daren. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Daren: Let's see... I'm 48-years-old, a native of Utah, and grew up in an active LDS family of eight in Spanish Fork. Currently, I live in Salt Lake City with my life partner of 25 years, Steven, and our two greyhounds, Loki and Bronte, and cat, Baxter. I've been out as a gay man for over 25 years. I had a 20-year career in management and marketing working for several major US companies before choosing to return to my original love of art.

Gavin: What first got you interested in art and what were some of your early inspirations?

Daren: I've been painting or drawing since about as early as I can remember. It's just something I've always gravitated towards. My parents recognized this interest and enrolled me in an art class when I was 8-years-old, and I'd almost always ask for art supplies for Christmas or birthday gifts. My parents were also great about exposing me and my siblings to the arts, so we made frequent trips to museums to look at art. I won a number of prizes for my artwork when I was young, so I guess I realized this might actually be something I was pretty good at. I took art classes through junior high and high school, and was selected as the Visual Arts Sterling Scholar representative for Spanish Fork High School, and was a state finalist. That's what motivated me to enroll as an art major at BYU.

Gavin: You originally went to BYU for your degree. What was their program like down there?

Daren: Since I grew up in Spanish Fork, and BYU was our family school, I was highly encouraged by my parents to go there for college. Plus I received a 4-year full-ride academic scholarship from the Y. The art program there in 1979 was good, very traditional, but didn't seem nearly as expansive or experimental as those at the U or USU. However, my freshman year foundation art professor was James Christensen... he is one of my absolute favorite artists!

Gavin: Why did you decide to change majors?

Daren: Even though I received an A in my freshman foundation art class, I got really nervous about making a living as an artist. I guess I lacked the confidence at that time to believe I could actually be successful as a professional artist. I ended up getting a BS degree in retail management and merchandising from the Y in December 1984.

Gavin: What brought about the eventual change of heart, and why did you pick the U?

Daren: Short story about why I went back to art: I had a mid-life 'awakening' (or what other people might call a mid-life crisis!). Long story: In the fall of 2003, I was a contestant on the syndicated daytime version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. When I was in the hot seat, Meredith Vierra asked me what I would do if I won the million dollars. My response, "I'd quit my job, and become an artist." This episode aired here in Salt Lake City, coincidentally, on my 43rd birthday. I guess I realized after being on the show that my life was about half over and that I shouldn't wait any longer to do what I really want to do with what time I have left on this planet. I enrolled in the art program at the U right after I got back from the taping in NYC. (BTW, I only ended up winning $1000 on the show... so guess I didn't really need a million dollars to become an artist, after all!) The reason I picked the U is that it is close to home, affordable, has a more diverse student body than the Y, and they have a terrific faculty. Oh, and the fact that it would only take me 2 years to get through the program since I already had one bachelor's degree.

Gavin: What was your time at Utah like compared to BYU?

Daren: Night and day difference. I really loved the U compared to BYU mostly because I felt like I could be my true self there. BYU is a great school, don't get me wrong, but I always felt stifled while I was there, like I had to think and act a very specific way if I wanted to excel. At the U, I was able to be out as a gay man the entire time I was there, and my peers and faculty were fine with that. One of the best classes I've ever taken was at the U, as well. I only had one general education requirement to fill , which was a Diversity course (what? no diversity requirements at BYU?!!). It was an amazing class taught by a phenomenal adjunct faculty member, Jackie Farnsworth. I never could have had that opportunity at BYU. Also, I was involved with the LGBT student resource center at the U, as a panel member on their speaker's bureau. We were frequently invited to speak on a variety of panels about queer politics and issues. Again, that isn't really an option at the Y.

Gavin: Where did the decision come from to head over to the Vermont College of Fine Art?

Daren: The biggest factor in choosing Vermont College for graduate school is that they offer a low-residency program that can be completed in two years. Low residency means I was able to stay and live here in Utah to do my work but traveled to Vermont for a ten-day residency at the beginning of each semester. I was also interested in the experience of going to an east coast school to broaden my networking base and also gain exposure to different perspectives on contemporary visual culture.

Gavin: What did you think of the U and Vermont programs, and how do they compare to each other?

Daren: The undergraduate program at the U is an excellent technical-based program where you are able to get an extremely well-rounded education in learning the skills required to be a proficient craftsman in your specific genre and medium. The U also has the advantage of being a physical campus where you are able to have face-to-face interaction with your peers and faculty on a daily basis, and feed off the collective creative pool there. The undergrad program also requires students to have a general understanding of the history of visual culture. In their graduate program, you also have the opportunity for teaching fellowships allowing the experience of teaching non-major or undergrad art courses. Vermont College's MFA in Visual Art program is focused on directing their students to become experts in contemporary visual culture and language, with a heavy emphasis on research and writing. The expectation with the art we produce is that it should demonstrate far greater complexity of content and context, explore alternate forms of expression, and have greater relevance to the wider social arena. Because VCFA is a 'virtual' campus (except for when we gather for residencies at the beginning of each semester in Montpelier, Vermont), much of the interaction with peers and faculty is web-based via email, blogs, etc. The ten-day residencies are an intense schedule of artist lectures, critiques, presentations, meetings with faculty, peer reviews, and social interaction. It was far more expensive to attend VCFA (definitely more than in-state post-graduate tuition!), but less than it would have cost to pick up and move elsewhere for a graduate program. I found it completely worth it, though, as I was able to work with extremely talented faculty and students from every area of the country working in every visual medium; I was also able to try my hand at video, installation, and performance art in addition to the traditional 2D media I'm more comfortable with.

Gavin: You tend to do a number of different painting styles. Why did you choose to go into different areas instead of sticking to one?

Daren: Why limit yourself by doing just one style of art? I enjoy doing highly rendered, more realistic landscapes and still-life paintings every bit as much as I like doing more stylized, expressive figurative work and portraits. I like to paint and I like to draw, and I like to use whatever medium is best suited to a specific work. I guess I don't necessarily have a specific 'signature' style, but by allowing myself more fluidity of expression I am able to explore more than one way of presenting my visual message. Maybe one day I'll settle into a single, identifiable style but, in the mean time, why create those kinds of boundaries for myself?

Gavin: Do you view yourself as a multi-talent artist, or are you mostly just experimenting with your work?

Daren: During both my undergrad and graduate programs, I really wanted to take the opportunity to experiment with a variety of styles and media. Who knows if I might not find in the process a specific style of representation or medium I particularly like if I don't give myself the freedom to experiment? I also think it's important to be proficient in a number of different rendering methods to be a well-rounded artist. One thing I discovered about myself, though, is I'm definitely not capable of doing abstract work... my brain sees things in a far too logical manner to be any good at abstractions! Oh, and I'm a lousy photographer.

Gavin: Tell us about the works you're showing at Art Access.

Daren: The work I'm currently showing at Art Access Gallery is a multi-media presentation from each of the four semesters while I was in the MFA in Visual Art program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. While each semester's work addresses a specific topic or idea, the overarching theme of the show is about queer identity. Being able to create art that allowed me to more fully explore my own sexuality as a gay man was another reason why I chose Vermont College; it provided a safe and accepting forum for considering this type of artistic content in my work. And while representations of sexual identity and queer politics have already been done by many other artists, mine come from my own unique background and perspective which includes, obviously, growing up and living in our often conservative and hetero-centric culture here in Utah. The title of the exhibition, HOMO/evocative, helps to describe this theme of queer identity. While I wanted to call the show by something that would catch people's attention with its play on the term homo-erotic, I'm not necessarily trying to be titillating or provocative with my work. Rather I hope to evoke from the viewer an emotional response and a recognition of his or her own identity. The Latin word homo translates as meaning the same; the work in this exhibition is intended to allow us to see the sameness we share as human beings regardless of whether we are straight or gay.

Daren: The first semester's work is titled Under-eye-Cream and Other Findings in my Medicine Chest: a Self-portrait. These drawings and paintings are an exploration of how the health, beauty, and grooming products we select for ourselves identify us and become a portrayal of the self. My favorite piece from this semester is the diptych oil painting and installation Father & Son, and shows a comparison of the grooming products my father used when he was my age juxtaposed against the ones I use. The painting hangs like a medicine chest over a bathroom vanity I've installed in the gallery as though its an altarpiece over an altar, and comments on our culture's near-religious obsession with image and beauty. During the second semester, I developed a series of twelve autobiographical images titled One Boy's Story: Snapshots from My Youth. These graphite drawings are intended to look like grainy black-and-white photographs from a family album. But these 'snapshots' chronicle those particular moments from my childhood and teenage years that were pivotal as I acknowledged my sexual identity as a gay person. With such varied titles as One of these scouts is not like the others, Sissy, The Pedophile, My first kiss, and Reparative Therapy (among others), these drawings are also accompanied by narrative text that gives more detail about my personal story. The drawings and text are available in a booklet I've printed up for this exhibition which patrons are able to purchase for $5 each; all profits from the sale of the booklets will go directly to the youth programs at the Utah Pride Center here in Salt Lake. Even though my own story has had a happy ending so far, many gay and lesbian youth are not nearly as lucky. The youth programs at Utah Pride Center help them as they navigate their own complicated and often hazardous journeys in discovering their own identities. While creating this series of drawings and text was personally cathartic as I revisited some of my own painful memories, I hope that by telling my story others going through similar situations can be comforted by knowing they are not alone and things can eventually turn out just fine for them, as well.

Daren: In my third semester, I chose to address our society's idealization of youth and physical perfection and its particular resonance for gay men as we grow older. Titled Reflections of a Middle-aged Gay Man, this semester's work includes a series of three drawings of iconic youthful male images from art history's past but rendered as though they are middle-aged. This series includes my favorite, David at Age 50, in which Michelagelo's statue is portrayed balding, sagging, and with a pot belly. I also present an audio-visual digital slideshow from interviews I conducted with 16 gay men ages 40 to 65 which documents their own thoughts and feelings about aging and ageism within gay male culture. The work from my fourth semester, which is also what I exhibited in my MFA thesis show in July 2008 at Vermont College, focuses on the extremely topical and often controversial issue of same-sex marriage. You're Invited... Discourses on Same-sex Marriage from a Queer Perspective includes more video work including a 'virtual' civil union ceremony as well as interviews with eight gay and lesbian couples all in long-term committed relationships recording their myriad opinions and thoughts on marriage. These videos are presented on monitors in a wedding-chapel installation space and are surrounded by charcoal drawings of each of the eight couples interviewed. When I began this project at the start of 2008, marriage equality was an important social issue but more personal for me at the time as my partner and I were planning to celebrate our 25th anniversary as a couple later that summer. But with California's Supreme Court ruling to allow same-sex marriages beginning in June of last year and the subsequent passing of Proposition 8 that took away this same right, marriage equality has become an extremely hot and divisive issue for most of us. Because gay and lesbian couples are denied thousands of rights, benefits and privileges of marriage so many heterosexual couples take for granted, I hope this work will bring greater understanding and awareness to our collective conversation about same-sex marriage but as it is seen from a uniquely queer point-of-view. What I hope to accomplish with this exhibition is to create a space where we can have open, honest dialog with each other about what it means to have a sexual orientation and identity outside the center, as well as to evoke thoughtful contemplation about our own individual humanity; I think what we will ultimately find is that while we differ from each other in many ways, the things we have in common are far more significant and unifying.

Gavin: Where did the idea come from you do a dual show with Julia Voye?

Daren: I just barely met Julia a few days before our shows opened at Art Access! These are actually considered separate solo shows not a dual show. Gallery director, Ruth Lubbers, and her staff made the choice to pair Julia with me for the January openings in the two galleries there. In the past, Art Access sent out individual postcards for each artist's show every month, but due to economic factors they are now combining both gallery artists on one card beginning with this month's show.

Gavin: A little state-wide, what are your thoughts on the local art scene, both good and bad?

Daren: I think the local art scene is at a crossroads right now. It can either become more dynamic and diverse or it can slowly wither away into irrelevancy. I certainly don't think there is enough emphasis or financial support of the visual arts in Utah as compared with other areas of the country. While those individuals who do support the arts do so with great enthusiasm and generosity, that number seems to be decreasing rather than growing. I was extremely encouraged, though, by the quality of the Monet to Picasso exhibition at UMFA last year and the high attendance levels and interest this show generated. We need more of these kinds of events in our community to keep the arts alive and fresh. The visual arts in general are also experiencing a metamorphosis as more young artists are choosing alternate, often digitally-based methods of representation. To see some of this beginning to happen in our community is definitely a good thing! Art should be an interactive experience, not just a static moment in a gallery or museum.

Gavin: Anything you believe could be done to make it bigger or better?

Daren: Ditto some of what I mentioned in the last question. I would love to see more young artists step forward and take on additional leadership in directing the future of our local art scene. An infusion of fresh blood can only make things better. And I'd love to see a greater level of commitment from local media outlets in reporting on the visual arts here in Utah. If people don't know what's going on, how can they possibly participate or get excited about it.

Gavin: What are your thoughts on Gallery Stroll and how its evolved over the years?

Daren: I'm a big fan of Gallery Stroll. I've been going for years and glad it is still so popular here... what a great, cost-free, monthly activity for our community where we can get together and see some terrific art by local artists. Now, I've been to gallery strolls in other cities, and I've got to say it's kind of nice to get a glass of wine to go with your art like galleries in many other places are able to do. Makes it feel much more festive and cosmopolitan that way. But this is Utah, after all...

Gavin: What can we expect from you this upcoming year?

Daren: Great question... I'm not quite sure! Since I've just spent the last five years as a student, though, I'm looking forward to making art that has nothing to do with school. I've got a few ideas in mind for a series of paintings I'd like to do, and I hope to procure a few private commissions, as well. Plus I need to get busy and submit a grant proposal or two. Another reason I went to graduate school is so I can potentially teach art at a local college or university, so I plan to look into that, too.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Daren: Check out my website, to see more of my other work and get a better idea of the variety of art I do. I will be giving an artist talk about queer identity, queer politics, and my work at Art Access at the gallery on Thursday, February 5. The gallery will open at 5:30 p.m. and I'll speak starting at 6:00. We'd love a big crowd there that evening, so get the word out! Thanks for the opportunity to talk about my art and answer these questions, Gavin!


Julia Voye


Gavin: Hey Julia. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Julia: Well I'm twenty-three, I grew up in Utah, and now I'm spending a winter being a ski bum in Alta. Just taking some time to live life and have fun.

Gavin: Prior to the photographs, did you have an interest in art or was it something you fell into?

Julia: I have always loved being creative and it was encouraged in my family. When I was younger I did a lot of art as little kids do, but as I got older my focus turned to writing and poetry. Photography was something I definitely fell into. I was given a digital camera one year for Christmas and I immediately began taking pictures of everything. I think it was something for me to do and to focus my energy on when I needed a positive outlet.

Gavin: Your story is quite unique from most artists. Going a little back to the beginning, when did you first discover you had a mental illness?

Julia: Mmm, I was officially diagnosed when I was seventeen but after I began to educate myself on it I could see that I had been having symptoms much earlier but just couldn't identify what it was.

Gavin: What was it like for you not being able to leave your home and do the things you wanted to do?

Julia: It was sad for sure, but mostly very, very lonely. I felt completely isolated. I was completely isolated, really. Sometimes I felt embarrassed when I would see my friends and they would ask me what I had been up to and I really couldn't think of anything to say. I definitely think photography helped in that way. It was something that I could share, that I could say, "This is what I've been doing all day" and be proud of it.

Gavin: Where did the idea come from to start taking these pictures?

Julia: Like I said, once I got that first digital camera I just took pictures of anything and everything. Since I didn't have to worry about the film running out I would take dozens and dozens of pictures of one thing. I would just sit on my floor and take pictures of the ceiling or of my reflection in the mirror or of the carpet, you name it. After I liked what those pictures looked like, I would keep an eye out for more cool images to capture.

Gavin: You're completely self-taught in your works. Was it difficult to learn or did you welcome the challenge?

Julia: When I was saving them to my computer I just happened to stumble across the free photo editing program that had come with my computer. It was in trying to figure out how the program worked that I discovered a way of making the photo look exactly how I felt when I looked at it. Hey, it was no challenge—I basically came up with my own style by doing the editing program incorrectly!

Gavin: How did the photography help you in your road to recovery?

Julia: It for sure gave me meaning and purpose. It was difficult for me to do much of anything, but I could get myself to work on the photography for long periods of time. I felt a sense of accomplishment. I didn't know if they were good or not but they made me happy and I liked to show them to people. In a way it gave value to what was going on with my life. I remember reading a lot of Emily Dickinson and feeling like even though she never left her house hardly her whole life and how that must have been awful, it gave her a perspective that produced this incredible poetry. And it was a perspective that other people just living their lives normally couldn't have developed. That helped me a lot and gave validity in my mind to both my photography and my poetry.

Gavin: Did you know right away that you wanted to showcase your work, or were you more reserved at first about showing it off?

Julia: I was really hesitant to show it to anyone. I mean my parents thought it was really good! That's not always a good indicator. I almost never printed them. In fact, some of the pieces in this show were printed for the first time ever. Sometimes I would give them to friends but same thing, you never know if people are just being nice to you. There were two sides in my mind: one, the photos had great meaning to me and I loved them very much; the other side, I didn't know if other people would agree. I think I was not very confident yet with what I had come up with and I was afraid of making myself vulnerable, especially about something that had so much meaning to me.

Gavin: When did you decide to show your photos at Art Access?

Julia: My parents were always trying to get me to send stuff in to art shows. Every week when I came home to visit there would be newspaper clippings of a call for submissions by some gallery somewhere. The idea started to sink in, but the first step is always the hardest. I finally got to the point where I wanted to try it, I had nothing to lose. Sometimes I would start an application and not finish it on time or forget about it. Finally I made up my mind that I would finish one application if it killed me. And I got it in on time—mind you, it was on the last day and the last hour. It was for Art Access which ended up being the perfect place for my first show, and they have been great.

Gavin: Where did the idea come from you do a dual show with Daren Young?

Julia: The curators set it up, I wasn't really involved. I'm really excited about his show. I grew up in a conservative community so I'm looking forward to bringing people I know in to see my show and having it be an opportunity to see his artwork as well.

Gavin: As a whole, what have you taken from this experience, and where do you see yourself headed from here?

Julia: I've learned a lot, not only about the entire process of setting up a show but also about just taking myself more seriously. Trusting that what I have to contribute matters. I honestly don't know what my future holds specifically for art. I've been putting all of my energy into this show and photographs from my past. I haven't created anything new in a while. But boy am I ready. My ideas and passion didn't end when I left my house. I bought a new camera and lots of books on photography. A new chapter in my art has begun. And I'm just getting started.

Gavin: A little state-wide, what are your thoughts on our local art scene, both good and bad?

Julia: I adore the local art scene. When I moved to downtown SLC I was blown away by the art that was going on. I wasn't used to it being at my fingertips. Gallery stroll is the best night of the month. I know some people say there isn't a big art culture here, but it's cool because there is if you just look for it. And the people involved are passionate. I should be so lucky to get into Salt Lake's art world. A unique group of people for sure. I like it because I'll really enjoy a piece of art, then I'll see the artist later that day riding their bike. For my show I emailed local artists and asked for their advice and they all emailed me back. It's very personal and intimate. I think Utahns can be very proud of their art.

Gavin: What do you think about Gallery Stroll and the experience of being showcased in it?

Julia: Like I said, Gallery Stroll is the best night of the month! It's a great idea because lots of people come out with art on the brain. People want to see and discuss and enjoy a night of art. It makes for a fantastic crowd with an open mind. I'm such a fan of Gallery Stroll and I've gone to so many myself, it is a crazy feeling to be actually be featured in one. But I'm looking forward to it. We have a great show and I think the people will be pleased.

Gavin: Can we expect from you this upcoming year, or was this more of a one-time thing?

Julia: Absolutely you can expect new and exciting stuff from me always. Not a one-time thing whatsoever. I'm on it.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Julia: Not yet, but there will be soon…

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