Willie Wayne Young
October 24–December 2, 2023

A formal feeling comes, by Claudia La Rocco

Untitled, 1991
Graphite on brown paper, 19 1/2 x 13 3/4 in.

Cushion Works is pleased to present Willie Wayne Young, the artist’s first solo exhibition in over a decade and his first ever on the west coast. The exhibition features a selection of works rendered in graphite on paper and plywood between 1977 and 2012.

Young’s strange and delicate drawings resemble perceivable artifacts of the natural world, like acorns, bones, and branches, alongside less visible phenomena, such as synaptic networks or nerve systems. Like an errant medical illustrator, Young employs a remarkable precision in bringing the objects at the center of his mind’s eye to life. Many works, in fact, are made with a pocketknife-sharpened pencil and the aid of a microscope. Throughout, his visions float in oceans of negative space.

Young exhibits a great consistency over many decades, privileging focus and attention over what we might traditionally understand as innovation or progress. Nonetheless, transformation and metamorphosis abound, and clearly signal the desire to manifest his creations from countless angles, perspectives, and frames of mind.

Willie Wayne Young was born in Dallas in 1942. While in high school, he participated in scholarship classes at the Dallas Museum of Fine Art led by Chapman Kelley (1932–2020), an important local artist with a vibrant atelier and frame shop, where Young subsequently worked for many years. For a time in the 1970s, Young installed linoleum, and began drawing on rolls of heavy brown kraft paper used to wrap large sheets of the material. In 1995, he began shining shoes at Griffin Barber Stylist in Farmers Branch, a suburb just north of Dallas, where for many years he kept a glass bottle under his chair with articles of inspiration, including the skulls and vertebrae of various small birds. He made drawings during downtime on the job, and at home, where his creations filled loose leaf sheets of paper, notebooks, cardboard panels, and more. He developed arthritis in his hands—”I think that’s why I draw the bones,” he once told the Dallas Morning News—which made it increasingly difficult to draw and shine shoes, and Young eventually recently retired from his post in Farmers Branch. He lives in the Dallas area.

Ricco/Maresca Gallery in New York mounted Young’s first solo exhibition in 1993, and his work was presented a year later at the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. Young’s drawings were exhibited throughout the 1990s and early 2000s at Mason Murer Fine Art, Atlanta; Webb Gallery, Waxahachie, Texas; and Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago. In 2008, Tanner|Hill Gallery of Chattanooga and Atlanta began presenting his work. Young’s drawings have been included in several important institutional exhibitions, including A World of Their Own: Twentieth Century American Folk Art, Newark Museum, 1995; and A Labor of Love, curated by Marcia Tucker at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, 1996. In 2009, the African American Museum of Dallas afforded Young his first retrospective, The Visionary Art of Willie Young. Most recently, in 2015 Young’s work was included in Inside the Outside: Five Self-Taught Artists from the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation at the Katonah Museum of Art, New York, a traveling exhibition.

Photographs by Phillip Maisel