Kenneth Victor Young: Washington Color School Painter

Bethesda Fine Art
May 10, 2018 6:18PM

By Jennifer Cohen, Lecturer, University of Chicago

Born in Kentucky in 1933, Kenneth Young seemed destined for a career in the sciences. As a scientist working at DuPont, he enrolled in a gradate program in chemical engineering at the University of Louisville. While there, he joined the local black artists’ group Gallery Enterprises, whose members included Bob Thompson, Sam Gilliam, and Robert Douglas. Turning his focus to art, Young received the Allen R. Hite Scholarship to study fine arts and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in that field in 1962.

Kenneth Victor Young
Untitled, 1972
Bethesda Fine Art

Young moved to Washington, DC, in 1964, following in Gilliam’s footsteps. He soon became acquainted with the artists who would participate in the landmark with the artists who would participate in the landmark Washington Color Painters exhibition at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art in 1965, including Gene Davis, Howard Mehring, and Thomas Downing. While working full-time at the Smithsonian Institution as an exhibition designer—a position he would hold for more than 35 years—he devoted himself to painting. His first solo exhibition in Washington, DC, took place at the Franz Bader Gallery in 1968.

Kenneth Victor Young
Riot, 1969
Bethesda Fine Art

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Yung pushed the formal boundaries of color painting while invoking a wide range of sources and allusions. Hs works referred to beauty found in nature, the history of art, and the politics of the civil rights era. He used diluted acrylic pigments on raw canvas to explore, as he put it, “beginnings and endings,” probing the boundaries between vibrant colors with complex bleeds and blurs. Working on the floor or table, Young would introduce pigments to a selectively dampened canvas with a brush. Then, with a sponge and spray bottle at hand, he would control the bleeds by alternately dampening and drying areas of the composition.

Cited by critic Barbara Rose in her 1970 essay “Black Art in America” as an example of the kind of “fresh energy and creativity that black artists are in a unique position to contribute today,” Young had important solo exhibitions at the Carl Van Vechten Gallery at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1973 and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, in 1974.

Young continued to paint even after he retired from the Smithsonian in 1994. His work was included in the exhibition Washington Art Matters at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center in 2014. He died on March 23, 2017, in Washington, DC.

From the exhibition catalogue for The Language of Abstraction: Ed Clark, Richard Franklin, and Kenneth Young, University of Maryland University College (2018)

Kenneth Victor Young with Spring Rain

1970, acrylic on canvas

84" x 108"  SOLD

Kenneth Victor Young, Red Dance (far left) on view at The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 2017

Bethesda Fine Art