Kenneth Victor Young (1933-2017) had a far-reaching career as an artist, teacher, and museum professional. After earning his bachelor’s degree in fine art from the University of Louisville in 1962, Young moved to Washington, D.C. and taught at the Duke Ellington School and the Corcoran School of Art. He had an illustrious 35-year career as an exhibition designer for the Smithsonian Institution, and his extensive travels during this time helped inform his cosmic, abstract style of painting. A love for jazz influenced the movement and vitality of his work. His early paintings are distinguished by floating colored orb motifs—imagery that attempts to bring order to chaos and that comments on the pandemonium of life.
For more than 40 years, his artworks have been shown in group and solo exhibitions in galleries and museums around the world. His one-man show at the Corcoran Gallery in 1973-74 solidified his place as a significant Washington Color School painter. “Young’s paintings of the 1960s and early 1970s show rich and varied palettes,” writes Virginia K. Adams, Ph.D., in her catalogue essay for the 2018 exhibition, The Language of Abstraction: Ed Clark, Richard Franklin, and Kenneth Young at the University of Maryland University College. “He often painted on the floor, pouring acrylic paint onto unprimed canvas and diluting it with water to make it flow and become absorbed in unpredictable patterns. Young sometimes used an airbrush to soften edges, which gave his orbs the appearance of floating. However, some later paintings—notably an untitled work (2000) and Blue Nile River (2010)—offer evidence of a turn to landscape.”
Some of Young’s later work still incorporates his orb motifs, but they are folded in more varied compositions with striations of color evoking horizons and landscape features. Young’s application of overlapping color takes on a Pointillist appearance, in the words of Dexter Wimberly, curator of Young’s 2017 solo exhibition at the American University Museum. Much of Young’s later paintings were rendered on 22 x 30 inch paper to experiment with motifs and color. These works also referenced personal biographical details about Young. Says Adams, “Sun Ra Dance (2000) connects the jazz composer and performer Sun Ra to Young’s love of jazz, which dated from his student days in Louisville, while Blue Nile River is a clear reference to a trip Young took to Egypt for his work at the Smithsonian.”
Young currently has a piece, Red Dance (1970) in the permanent collection of the newly renovated East Building of the National Gallery of Art. The painting first gained attention when it was featured in “Black Art in America,” a 1970 feature written by Barbara Rose for Art in America. The article paired Young’s work with that of other young African American artists whom she deemed to show “special promise.”
Prompted by Young’s recent exhibition success, The Washington City Paper published an article by Kriston Capps, “Late Artist Kenneth Young is Finally Getting His Due” (June 2, 2017), highlighting the life of the enigmatic artist. With Young’s career as an artist experiencing a recent resurgence, Bethesda Fine Art is delighted to offer Young and his work a renewed platform.