In his latest body of work, New York Grenade, Russell Young literally blows up the image of a World War II model hand grenade. The California based American British artist detonates the motif through shifts in scale, color and texture. Its formal attributes magnified and enhanced, the larger-than-life figure of a lethal weapon evokes the voluptuousness of a ripe fruit, conjuring associations with the shapeliness and grid-patterned skin of a pineapple or the curvy silhouette concealing the glistening ruby red flesh of a pomegranate, from which the deadly device takes its name (grenade in French). For this series of twenty-six unique, large-format screen prints on canvas, Young marshals striking color contrasts to explosive effect—combining fiery yellows, hot pinks and deep crimsons with grayscale tones that allude to the photographic medium at the source of his practice. The sumptuous surface treatment of the paintings, a gleaming coat of diamond dust, adds dazzle to their seductive allure.
What may at first glance appear a departure from the artist’s ongoing examination of glamour, counterculture rebellion, the myth of the American dream and its dark underbelly through figurative imagery culled from popular entertainment and the press, in these “portraits” of a destructive object, Young enlists similar techniques and materials to provocatively probe the same themes, albeit more abstractly or obliquely perhaps. With a salute to Warhol’s iconic stature, Young deploys a pop aesthetic to focus a singular lens on the complexities of American culture, its values and underlying violence. Offering an original perspective on the illusory and shadowy aspects of celebrity, notoriety and infamy he explored in earlier works—from the mug shots of famous people in Pig Portraits (2003) to Fame and Shame (2007) Jackie O (2010), Dreamland (2011), Helter Skelter (2014), Superstar (2016), or Femme Fatale (2017)—in this new series, the artist continues to address related concerns, capturing the brutality, fragility and fleeting nature of life through the beautiful yet ominous form of the grenade.
A counterpoint to the ambient bleakness of his childhood in Northern England, Young employs a vivid palette of diamond-encrusted paint to create stunning, compelling pictures, whose luminous qualities reflect the glitzy glare of his adoptive Southern California while casting light on the dualities pervading our world.