Monday, December 25, 2017

It's Christmas

It's Christmas. This is a bittersweet day for me. A year ago, Maddee, Luuka and Dylan moved out to Colorado. I was devastated by that news, and am still trying to come to terms with it. My knee jerk reaction was to put my house on the market, quit my job and move to North Carolina. I took a job as a spinal cord injury nurse at a large hospital, and it looked like everything was happening according to my plan. But I was miserable. I was so homesick for Grand Marais, and the life I had built here over the last 30 years. Thank God no one bought my house. After less than two months, I came back home.

This is Christmas morning. I don't have to work today. I am all alone, and that is sad. I got a little emotional, laying in my dark bedroom, when Alexa sang "I wish you a merry Christmas" to me. That was sweet.

I am volunteering at work this afternoon, where I am going to read a couple of Christmas stories to the residents. So I am not all alone. Even though it's just Lempi and me at home… Even though I didn't put up my Christmas tree… It's Christmas.

Friday, November 17, 2017


It has been about four months since I have painted, and now I’m going back into the studio.

I’m always trying to think of something new to paint. Some new direction to take my art in...

It doesn’t usually work that way, though. If I just paint, the images evolve. It’s in painting that I learn to paint.

I took a few months off. I bought a house down south and moved away from Grand Marais.

What a silly thing to do. But I didn’t know better. I’ve been here for 30 years. I thought I could go to a new city and that everything I had done here would translate.

I was in the truck heading south, towing my car behind me. By the time I hit Indianapolis, it dawned on me that I was probably making a mistake.

I closed on the house anyway, and took a job at a big hospital. I kept saying “I want to be me again.”

Two months later, I was back in Minnesota trying to put the pieces back together the way they were before.

I’ve said I’m not going to paint fish in trees anymore. But guess what... I am.

Fish in trees. It was my idea, and it was a risky one. I had to explain “Why?”

And so I pointed out that this area was built on fishing and lumber. I referenced many instances where fish find themselves swimming amongst the branches of trees in the real world.

I was drawing and painting from an early age. Before I could read and write, I was drawing pictures. I took every art class available in my high school, so in my senior year, I got to teach a class (with the real art teacher present).

I think art should challenge us. To ask questions. To think about a deeper meaning, not only in art, but in our lives.

So I am not afraid of questions. Or of criticism. I would much rather have someone say they despise my work than shrug and say it’s ok. “Whatever.”

So yes. There will be more fish in treetops. But not only that.

For me, painting is so much more than just creating an image. It is therapy. It is meditation. It is breathing. It is being me.

I am connected to this place.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Collective Unconscious

Before I went to art school, my father admonished me not to make abstract art.  I think it was because he didn't understand it.  I didn't understand it, either.

  When I was in 4th or 5th grade, we took a field trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts.  There was a large canvas by Mark Rothko hanging over the staircase in the museum lobby, and I remember the other kids laughing at it.  A tour guide pointed out that an abstract sculpture was worth just as much as one of the old marble statues.  Our minds were boggled.

At the end of our tour, we went to the gift shop, and I bought several postcards.  All of them were of abstract art.  The other kids couldn't believe that I had chosen those.

Nonetheless, years later when I got to art school (which was right next to the DIA), I had a kind of mental roadblock that kept me from embracing art that was not representational.  In my mind, a drawing was better, the closer it resembled the subject.  I admired abstract art, but found myself unable to create it.

I think my parents thought it was just throwing paint at a canvas and calling it art.  And I guess you can do that.  Of course you can.

You can express a lot with color or lines, even if they don't conjure up objects or landscapes.

A friend of mine was in art school when his father died.  After the funeral, he had to do some paintings for a class, but he didn't feel like painting.  So he told me he painted "nothing".  Just filled four canvases with paint.

I own two of those paintings, along with several other abstract pieces by friends, and I love them.

I love them for the colors, for the shapes, and for the stories they remind me of. The stories my friends told me about creating the images, and stories my mind tells me when I look at them.

I do a lot of abstract paintings now. Bright colors flow out of my thoughts and work their way down my arm, and out of my hand, through the brush and onto the canvas.

My father also makes beautiful little abstract paintings sometimes. My daughter saw some of my dad’s painted blocks, and said, “Now I see where you get it from!”

“No,” I said, “I was doing this before he was.”

Our paintings are similar.

My grandfather was a painter too, and an art teacher. Something from him was passed on to my father, and from my father to me.

We dip our nets into the collective unconscious and we catch similar things.

I think this is how we are reincarnated. The cells of my ancestors live on in me.

I like to think that my brain cells can inspire, and live on in others through my art.

Or better yet, that we can be mutually inspired and changed by each others’ creativity.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Friday, May 05, 2017

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Witch Tree

24" x 36", acrylic on canvas, 2017

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Fish Witch 2

When I first moved to Grand Marais nearly 30 years ago, two natural features fascinated me. Devil's Kettle and the Witch Tree. We have many rivers and many trees here in the boreal forest, but these two oddities are unique.

I had been painting old growth white pines for a long time, then one day I saw a branch that looked like a fish. I thought I'd try it out. I painted a fish into that branch that hung with its mouth open. There's a beautiful stand of trees a little way up the Gunflint Trail that I have painted over and over. I've gotten to know those individual trees quite well, and when I approach them on the road, they greet me like friends.

As an individual tree, the Witch Tree is even more unique and recognizable. She's not so tall or easy to find, but is a symbol of survival against the odds. Perseverance in adverse conditions. Sacred to many. Mysterious and inspiring, clinging to rock, she is unlikely. Unlike the fish who come and go, swimming in her shadow, she is steadfast.

I am just one of many artists to interpret this amazing and beautiful cedar.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Coho Show going up April 15!

I'm looking forward to hanging paintings at Coho Cafe in Tofte on April 15. Almost 30 years ago, Chef Judi Barsness asked me to show my paintings in that venue. Now we've come full circle. She was the one who contacted me about this current show.

Always supportive, Judi displayed my work at her restaurant in Grand Marais for many years as well.

Art Reception

Thank you to everyone who came out to my house on April 1!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Household Name

My friend Anne once told me not to feel bad about painting the same subject over and over. She said if you paint it once, one person can have it. If you paint it many times, many people can have one, and that's how you can become a household name.

Sometimes I feel like I'm doing the same painting again, but that is not true. They evolve subconsciously. I wouldn't be able to do the same painting twice if I tried.

These fish in trees paintings are hanging in many homes now, and that's a good feeling.

I was feeling stressed after work this morning. I was so wound up I couldn't just go to bed. So I went into my studio and painted for an hour or so. It relaxed me and gave me some clarity, or at least calmed my mind enough to go to bed.

Working the night shift takes a toll, even though I love my job. As I said in an interview once, my jobs are things I do, but art is who I am.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Friday, March 17, 2017

Full Color

I'm Living In Full Color, 2017



Jargogle, 2016

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Abstract Wooden Blocks

These small wood blocks were painted by my father, Dr. Frank Young, and will be on display at my art reception on April 1st.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Be Yourself

Click here to see my ARTSCULTURE Q&A on their site

What role does the artist have in society?

To me, it's like that old adage, "Think globally, act locally."

As an artist, I want to reach the whole world with my message, but I have to create personal expressions right where I am. From my own "local" mind.

And what is your message?

It's pretty simple really... that you matter. That what you feel and what you have to say, is valid and important.

Society seems dead set on making us feel bad about ourselves.

Almost anyone who has ever heard me speak in public, has heard my soapbox. That you are unique in all the universe. No one else has your particular viewpoint and experiences. Being you is all the credential you need to be a true artist, whatever form your art may take.

So going back to your first question, I think a good role for me as an artist in society, is to instill a sense of self confidence in others.

People will criticize you. So take constructive value from that critique and ignore the rest. Find the gift in it and continue to shine rather than feeling bad about yourself or quitting.

The really important things in life are invisible.

What is an artistic outlook on life?

I think an artistic outlook is seeing the meaning or significance in something. We have the power to interpret what we see. Our bodies collect information through our senses, and our brain then has the ability to metabolize that information into spiritual meaning.

Every word in this sentence is just a string of letters, or symbols. Our brains understand the meaning because we've learned the language they are written in.

In the same way, our brains or spirits can extrapolate spiritual meaning from the beauty or pain of the world. As artists, we can highlight and share what we see and how it makes us feel or think.

I think that's an artistic outlook.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

As nice as it is to hear someone say "I love that," it is also valuable to hear negative comments.

Someone once told me "I reject your thinking" because he didn't like the order in which I layered paint into a landscape.

It really made me stop and think, and only strengthened my instinct to capture light at the end rather than paint the furthest away objects first.

Criticism offers us another, objective viewpoint. I think the comment made me a stronger, more focused and intentional artist.

Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?

I think life is lonely. I don't think art makes it so.

Art, for me, is social and interactive. Sometimes friends come over to watch me paint in my studio. We play music, talk, laugh. Sometimes I go to other artists' studios to paint with them. Not necessarily to collaborate, but to commiserate. Sometimes I paint in front of a gathering of people, doing a painting demonstration and talking about my life and my art.

But mostly I paint alone in my studio. That is not sad or lonely. It's regenerative. I often say that painting is like a meditation for me. But even those paintings most often end up on a wall and become interactive.

For me, it takes work not to be lonely. Art is one way I connect with people. It is also a way for me to connect with myself. Is the artistic life lonely for some people?

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Long after his death, I found a handwritten note from my grandfather which said "Don't imitate your teacher. Don't let your teacher make you imitate him. Be yourself."

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Letting Go

Someone recently asked me about my affinity with the subject of trees.

First of all, I live in the boreal forest where I am surrounded by trees. The Norway pine, or red pine is the state tree of Minnesota, and the white pine is the state tree of Michigan, the state where I was born.

I think the white pines are king of the forest here, especially the old growth individuals. Each tree has its own personality, the way each person does. Earthlings. We're all living inhabitants of this fragile planet, and I try to capture the uniqueness of each one. But as an artist, I also want to bring a sense of whimsy to the images.

When my daughter was born, I planted fir trees around my house. Those saplings now tower over my home, dominating the place I live. When her son was born, I planted more trees, creating my own private forest in town. These are trees that truly represent people that I love.

If I were to think of selling my house, leaving the trees would be the thing that would make me the most sad. But children grow up and find their own life in this world, as they should. And the trees grow tall and strong, no longer needing me to protect them like when they were the size of a twig.

So once again, it is a lesson in letting go.

I'm learning to let go of my kids. And to detach from stuff. The way I let go of my paintings. The way we will all let go of our own lives one day.

When I write fiction, the details of my own life automatically show up in the story. It's the same way with paintings, just in a different medium.

Fish Witch, 2017

Friday, March 03, 2017


We go through so many transitions in life. Some are happy, and there are some we would rather not experience at all. But that is life. It feels like a string of isolated situations, but it's really a fluid stream of highs and lows. Darks and lights.

Recently some of my friends transitioned right out of their bodies. It's an inevitable sadness we must embrace as we continue to ride the peaks and valleys of our own daily transitions.

Our brains evolve with each new scenario.

I meant to write about the ebb and flow of stuff. Objects. Possessions that sparkle and promise, only to eventually become clutter that frustrates me.

Imagine living with only what we need. That is what I'm striving for. Everything I need and only what I need or love.

And where does that leave art? I need art. I love art. Art is communication and expression. Art is also objects... stuff. Like all relationships, my relationship with art takes work. Passion and dedication. I must be willing to change and grow.

And later, I see how the sadness and joy, the resentments and forgiveness make their way from my spirit to my brain, from the paint to the canvas. Unintentionally. That's all very introspective.

When another person sees, relates and is inspired, that is the true purpose.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

New Paintings


April 1, 2017, 7 PM

1805 W. Hwy. 61

Grand Marais, MN

Thursday, February 16, 2017


My brother drew this picture of me when I was in high school. I had caught a red snapper on the beach one night in Liberia. He was about 10.


Maddee used to sit at the top of the stairs and watch me paint. After a while, she'd giggle because I didn't know she was there. When I looked up, she would break into a full belly laugh. Later on, she painted with me.