Multi-disciplinary artist Heather L. Young likes documenting the scenes she sees around her.
Young is both a painter and illustrator, though she works a lot in illustration and calls it her “bread and butter.” A Savannah native, she moved around in her youth before returning, and she’s now been back for twenty years.
She’s a member of Arts on the Coast and lives in Richmond Hill with her husband and two children. We caught up with her at her home studio last week.
1. How’d you end up back in Savannah?
I came full circle—I’m from here originally. My dad worked in the paper business so we moved all around the country, and I ended up finishing high school in Chicago and I came back to go to SCAD. My husband and I went to the same high school outside of Chicago, and we met at SCAD. I feel like a lot of people leave Savannah, even people who live here temporarily; they’ll leave and come back.
I think I paint the trees so much because living away from Savannah so long, I think I missed the Spanish moss. I missed the sprawling live oaks. When you live in Chicago, there’s a lot of corn fields. We did have weeping willows up there, which is why I have a few in my collection.
2. What’s your collection all about?
We did “Canopy” in May because Carmen [Aguirre, from the Grand Bohemian Gallery] called me up and asked if I wanted to do a show. I said, “Only if you’ll show my paintings!” I started thinking about the landscape here. Maybe it’s because I moved so much, but I like to document the landscape. Whether it’s the seascape or trees, I just want to capture that sense of place and that time. I started thinking about all the different squares and if I could find a composition from each square.
I did 21 10x10 square paintings, abstract tree canopies from each of the squares, except Ellis, because there’s really no trees. Then, of course, Wormsloe and Forsyth Park were thrown into the mix. When you think about the city, you’re looking down on this grid, and it’s covered, so it’s the idea of looking upward at it and documenting it. That’s kind of where it came from.
It’s kind of moody. There’s just something about it. When you look at the Wormsloe piece I did, it’s very green, but there’s a mood in Savannah and sometimes it turns up in my paintings like a happy accident.
3. What’s the difference, for you, in illustrating and painting?
This is still documenting. To me, what gives me joy about it is that I’m capturing a memory for people. If I’m drawing a portrait of someone’s house, it’s usually their first home or their childhood home. They’ll send me really old photographs of houses the family got rid of years ago. I do the same thing with trees; I get people who send me photos of old oak trees in their yard that died. It’s capturing that memory for people, so it brings me a lot of joy.
Pen and ink is instant gratification for me. I can sit down and knock it out in a day, whereas a painting, you have to nurture it and go with it. I can take care of my OCD with the pen and ink. Paintings, I have to just let it go and at some point you have to let it take on a life of its own. It’s very liberating.
As far as the business of art, this is attainable art. When you’re working with oil paintings and you’re slaving over them for twenty hours, the price tag goes up. When you’re working with something like pen and ink, it can become attainable for people, and I like to have that as an option.
4. Tell me about the art scene in Richmond Hill.
At the Richmond Hill Visitor’s Center, Arts on the Coast has the back half of that building as their art gallery, and it was the old Henry Ford bakery. It’s off the beaten path, but it showcases an amazing array of local talent. Not just Richmond Hill, we’re talking Savannah, Pooler, all the way down the coast. We do quarterly shows out there; we usually have live music and wine and small bites. It’s really nice to have a venue to showcase local artists. It’s an eclectic group—you see a very diverse offering there. We’ve got photography, sculpture, jewelry designers, fine art painters, the whole nine yards.
We have an Arts on the Coast group. When you get together with these folks and we’re doing quarterly shows, it’s nice to see what everybody’s working on. To get together quarterly and show your work in progress, it’s important.
It’s electric in Savannah right now; it’s brewing. I feel it out here, too. I don’t know if it’s [because of] public art that’s going on right now, but there is something going on and it’s really cool to see what’s happening. We have exponential growth, and how do we take that and continue to grow it? We want the artist to stay in our community, we don’t want them to finish up and leave.
5. What are your plans for 2020?
I have more ideas than time! I think you’ll see more figurative work from me. I don’t want to give away too much. I think you’ll see a little more towards the illustration side conceptually, but with paint.
I lost my grandmother and my grandmother-in-law this year, and my granny the year before. That’s kind of been my driving force. When somebody dies, you really start to think about the brevity of our time here. Do I want to be a slave to my craft, or do I want to continue to challenge myself?
2019 was the year I immersed myself in my craft and turned my blinders on. “I can do this, I can challenge myself to make this show happen while I have other things going on.” I think this year will be a continuation of that. I’ve been documenting all the things my grandmothers used to say to me, and I have these ideas spinning around in my head about how to translate those things. I also really want to paint mountains. I have a slew of mountain photos, and I’m just feeling the call to paint them for a change of pace.