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Kierstin Young's Near-Misses With Death Shaped Her Creative Practice

Kierstin Young showcasing her work.
Kierstin Young showcasing her work.
Courtesy of Kierstin Young.

For New Jersey painter Kierstin Young, whose first Denver solo exhibit runs at Abend Gallery through November 25, brushes with death have helped her appreciate the value of her life as a woman and an artist.

Even before Young was born, her mom had a terrible car accident. After treating the soon-to-be mother with a course of painkillers and exposing her to radiation through X-rays and CAT scans, the doctors strongly advised her not to continue with the pregnancy, worrying that the fetus had been harmed. The mother moved forward, ignoring their advice, and Young was born a healthy baby.

When she was twelve, she had her tonsils removed. After returning home from the procedure, the back of her throat started bleeding excessively. Her parents took her back to the hospital.

“I was on a lot of painkillers and constantly going under anesthesia,” Young explains. “They rushed me into the operating room repeatedly to re-cauterize my throat three or four times to try and stop the bleeding. This is how they discovered I had a bleeding disorder.”

A few years back, she was driving a Jeep through the Adirondacks in a rainstorm. Just as she turned a curve, the Jeep started fishtailing and she lost total control. She narrowly missed an oncoming car and crashed the Jeep in a shallow ditch.

“I remember seeing my stainless-steel travel coffee mug fly past my face and crack the windshield,” Young recalls. “I then proceeded to crawl out the passenger window unscathed.”

Earlier this year, Young was diagnosed with a mild case of COVID-19 and was in quarantine for five weeks.

“I was never hospitalized or anything,” she says. “Mainly I [had] a great deal of coughing, chest pain and fatigue. Even though it was discouraging at times, there were days I couldn’t bring myself to paint at all. But overall, I was driven by the promise of my upcoming solo show.”

These traumatic experiences have taught Young to empathize with others.

“I am very sympathetic to the suffering of others because of the things I have been through,” she says. “I appreciate the little things, and I care wholeheartedly for the people around me and in my life.”

"Hamarita," by Kierstin Young.
"Hamarita," by Kierstin Young.
Courtesy of Kierstin Young.

From her earliest years, she was also immersed in art. Over sixteen years, as her mother home-schooled her, she enjoyed field trips to museums and plays, figure skating and hockey at the local ice rink, art classes, and Spanish lessons at home — often all within the same day.

“[Home-schooling] certainly contributed to my personality,” Young says. “Without the influence of peer pressure from other kids, I was able to be myself without consequence, which usually manifested in wearing unique clothing such as a faux-raccoon skin cap for an entire summer or ’50s-style swing dresses.”

When she was sixteen, Young decided to spend her junior and senior years in public school.

“The first day of school was certainly a little unnerving and confusing, as I had never had to follow bells or even open a locker before,” she recalls. “But I made friends the very first day, and definitely had a blast getting to hang out with people all day. I love learning, and I think I was the only teenager genuinely excited to be there.”

Although Young was already steeped in art, her high school art teacher helped foster her talents. “She was always so enthusiastic about art,” Young says. “She would let me come into the art room instead of study hall, and I always did extra projects for her critique.”

The teacher helped Young exhibit her work at the duCret School of Art in Plainfield, New Jersey, during her senior year. Young decided that she wanted to continue her artistic pursuits at duCret. Her parents were initially against the idea, because they thought art schools were just drug-fueled parties devoid of learning, but eventually, they made a deal with their daughter: They would pay for classes if she paid for all of her art materials.

From 2005 to 2008, Young experimented with oil paints, her favorite medium. “I occasionally draw with charcoal and pastel and even paint with watercolors,” she says. “But I love the look, feel and smell of oil paints the best.”

She also took a class with oil painter Timothy Jahn. In 2008, he left duCret and started his own art studio, Jahn Studios. Young decided to follow Jahn and paid for classes at his studio from 2008 to 2012. In 2009, she showcased her work at a show for the Salmagundi Club in New York City, at a show Jahn organized for his students. She showed up in a limo and sold a charcoal drawing of her sister holding dead roses called "Serenity."  

"Green Luna Moth," by Kierstin Young.
"Green Luna Moth," by Kierstin Young.
Courtesy of Kierstin Young.

Jahn introduced Young to Anthony Waichulis, a contemporary painter who had opened the nonprofit art school Ani Art Academy Waichulis. Young signed up and graduated in 2016.

Now working at an REI in New Jersey, is an outdoors enthusiast who comes to Colorado for skiing and rock climbing. On one of those trips, she discovered Abend Gallery.

“I started talking to a patron in the gallery because she had just bought paintings that I admired,” Young recalls. “After showing me the pieces she had picked out, she asked if I, too, was an artist. I said yes, and she insisted on seeing my work. She then proceeded to make the gallery director, David Ethridge, look at my work.

“David gave me his card and said he’d be interested in showing my work,” she continues. “I was in their next group show, and have been involved in group shows there ever since.”

Young’s first solo exhibit is part of Abend’s virtual 52 Solos, 52 Weeks series, which allows patrons to enjoy work by artists from around the world every week in the comfort of their homes.

At the beginning of the pandemic, “instead of having exhibitions trying to attract physical visitors for opening receptions, we decided it would be prudent to leverage our robust online sales channels,” says Ethridge, who notes that even before COVID-19, the gallery did 80 percent of its business online.

The work in Young's solo, Syzygy, juxtaposes warm and cool tone paintings with paintings of tree branches and insects woven within a human form.

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“Kierstin’s skill level and ability to apply those skills in imaginative paintings are what initially drew us to her work,” Ethridge says. “She is a pleasure to work with, and has a very bright future ahead of her.”

While Young's art has representational elements, it is driven by her often dreamlike visions.

“I sometimes see the entire painting flash in my head all at once, and I feel compelled to re-create it,” Young says, “Rather than creating an image around a concept, it is the images that come to me first. I have a deep love of psychology, as well, and I am compelled to intertwine aspects of the human psyche with elements of nature.”

Kierstin Young’s Syzygy runs online at Abend Gallery through November 25.

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