Tyler Young is a Portland based artist that received his BA in ceramics and jewelry and a minor in philosophy from San Diego State University in 2021. Tyler’s philosophical interest has caused him to look at the art world from a critical perspective, deconstructing the manner in which art is judged and evaluated from different art forms.
Tell us about your work:
Due to my social anxiety, I have struggled to express how I feel. Because of this, my work considers modes of rebellion that are expressed in a subtle manner. My work provides the viewer visual cues to touch my paintings and sculptures, providing the viewer a mode of interacting with the artwork that is considered taboo. This is manifested by using jewelry to create affordances that are juxtaposed onto the surface of paintings or objects. Overall, this combination of craft and fine art act reconsider hierarchies that are at times arbitrarily placed on artistic disciplines to undermine their inherent value.
How did you start your metalsmithing/materialsmithing/adornment journey?
I got started doing jewelry mostly by accident. My original focus in my undergrad was painting and sculpture, and during my second year, all of the classes I wanted to take were full. I only took a jewelry class because it fit with my schedule that semester and I heard my school, San Diego State University (SDSU), had a well known jewelry program. I originally didn’t like jewelry; jewelry has a high learning curve and I didn’t even like wearing jewelry at the time.
However as I studied more surface techniques, like patinas, anodizing, and enameling, I discovered how vast and interesting jewelry and its history is.
How does your identity relate to your work? If at all?
I feel like my identity only subtly informs my artwork. I don’t think my work is a direct representation of an objective depiction of particular aspects of my life/identity. Rather, I think my work is more reflective of a sillier side of me. As much as overthink my artwork and my concepts, a lot of my recent work starts out by journaling these really silly art projects: a painting that bends, a sculpture that you can touch on only very specific points, and so on (at least in my head they seem really silly). Studying craft then gave me the ability to fully flesh out these weird ideas in a serious manner but still make me laugh. Especially going to school during COVID and quarantining, there wasn’t as much of a pressure to produce “serious” artwork and I could make stuff that revolved around my weird and ironic sense of humor.
If you feel comfortable discussing your queer identity, what is something you would like share?
Coming out has always been really awkward for me since I am shy and I feel like other queer artists either make queer art or are very outspoken about their queer identities. Which coming from a conservative family, being out in this manner has always terrified me. However living in Portland has made me really comfortable living with myself without trying to live up to some queer identity as an artist or made me feel the need to ever be closeted.
What are the main concepts in your work?
One of the main concepts in my work is trying to make paintings interactable and dissecting the hierarchies in art galleries that generally dissuade viewers from interacting with paintings or other gallery work. For most of my life, painting has been this intimate practice that is really special to me and it has always irked me the distance that separates viewers from artwork, both in a figurative and literal sense. The thing that has always drawn me into craft art, and jewelry in particular, is being able to share the intimacy I have with my work with others. Even though I don’t make a lot of functional work, it is always really rewarding to have people touch and appreciate my work through the context of physical interaction.
This idea has also been a critique on hierarchies within the art world/academia that I felt had conflicting ideologies. Starting as a painting/fine art major and transitioning into craft, I felt that the division between those disciplines was really jarring and also annoying to conceptually wrap my head around. I wanted to make something rebellious and found myself making work around the dichotomy between physically interacting with a piece of jewelry and viewing paintings/images from a distance. I want to create painterly objects on canvas that utilize the visual language of jewelry to encourage people to interact and touch my paintings. I found it funny how taboo it is for some people to touch paintings and I wanted to make work that enticed this interaction.
Can you share a bit about your conceptual development?
I kind of have a loose journal and plot down a lot of weird ideas and see what whatever “works” in my head. It was inspired from the Richard Serra list where he made a list of action verbs to help him experiment with materials and try to deviate from the mentality that made people think of sculpting as drawing in three dimensions. My original journal was originally focused on ceramics. I would make greenware tile paintings and alter them according to some similar list. This eventually shifted to my jewelry work. During COVID and since it felt like I had unlimited time to myself, I would just sit in my room journaling all of the weird objects in my house you could attach to a necklace and see how I could make some cold connection to attach it to a chain. Once I burned through most of the objects my parents were fine with me dissembling, I was left with a bunch of old paintings and made necklaces with them. The process of making work now is still rooted in journaling weird ideas and still revolves around these weird ideas combining jewelry and painting.
I try to do most of the jewelry/metalsmithing aspects of my sculptures with as little planning as possible to keep some level of spontaneity in my process. I like assemblage artists, like George Herms, that have that stream of consciousness appearance in their work. I try to resemble this by making a bunch of parts that are loosely inspired by the original idea in my notebook and seeing what other parts I need to make to connect everything together. It’s a pretty chaotic process especially considering how much measuring and planning I used to do when I made functional jewelry.
How do you take a break and reset?
I really like reading, philosophy in particular. Existentialism has always been one of my favorite topics and was one of the few things I studied, in philosophy course load, that had actually felt like it had some significance in my day to day life.
What is your favorite tool, material, or process?
In terms of jewelry processes, enameling has always been my favorite process. It was also a really big turning point in my artistic career since even after my first jewelry class, I was still unsure how seriously I wanted to take jewelry. However, in my intermediate class, I took a workshop with Sharon Massey and learned cloisonne and champleve from her, and it really changed my life as an artist. Since I started as a painter who was painting large abstract paintings, it took me a while to really appreciate all of the fine details in jewelry. After I got hooked on enameling, it kind of started this domino effect and I wanted to really refine all other aspects of my jewelry techniques I knew.
What is something no one has ever asked you that you would like to answer?
I think one of the main questions not a lot of people have asked me is why I make the effort to make everything by hand. I was inspired by assemblage artists for most of my undergrad and I think the kind of janky and messy connections between different materials in my work kind of evokes the aesthetic of artists like Jasper johns. I would hypothetically save a lot of time if I utilized found materials and tried to form it into specific shapes rather than make these metal pieces look like found objects.
My answer to this question in short would be that I really love making things and appreciate the craft of jewelry. I remember how shocked I was when I learned these assemblage and neo dadaists artists I took so much inspiration from were so critical of abstract expressionist work and craft work that I was so fond of making. It was this thought where I wanted to make work that appreciated the visual legacy of this era in art, but also put the maximum amount of effort in creating these works as a critique of the conceptual basis of assemblage and neo dadaism.
What do you want to see in the field in order for it be more supportive?
I think the main thing I can think of is providing resources for other craft artists to better understand and participate in contemporary craft culture.So far from what I have seen, the jewelry community has been really accepting and supportive of each other. I think the main thing I really wanted is to have more shows or catalogs that highlight marginalized voices, like In Focus. Especially for people that are newer to jewelry, the only art history classes I had focused on painting, and most people who went to art school can attest that these classes mainly focused on classical European works of art. I think shows like in focus will be an amazing resource for new jewelers or craft enthusiasts since they can discover how diverse contemporary jewelry is.
*** All interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity