The Cloisters, New College, University of Oxford
29 March - 27 September, 2018
Review by Paul Black
Born into a family of writers, artists and politicians, British Sculptor Emily Young found an affinity to sculpting from an early age; influenced by her grandmother, the sculptor Kathleen Scott, a colleague of Auguste Rodin and widow of the explorer Captain Scott of the Antarctic.
The artist started carving exclusively in the early 1980s, sourcing stone from all over the world, having studied at Chelsea School of Art in 1968, and subsequently Central Saint Martins. Young travelled extensively in the late 60s and 70s, spending time in the USA, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, France and Italy, with additional journeys to Africa, South America, the Middle East, and China; this had an influence not only on the artist’s choice of sculpting materials, but also brought a socio-cultural/conceptual element to their employment.
The artist finally settled in the United States to study under American artist Robert White, but subsequently it was Young’s travels that informed the artist’s work, allowing Young a broad view of international art, and underscoring her preoccupation with humanity’s contradictory relationship with nature; a concept that has been a permanent thematic presence in her work.
Through her practice Young strives to marry the ancient and the contemporary - employing a combination of traditional stone carving and technological approaches – considering this, it seems fitting that the artist’s work currently adorns the magnificent quadrangle of New College, Oxford - juxtaposing the contrasting contemporary and traditional.
With Young’s latest installation in place, the choice of the cloisters and the chapel are of particular note; the chapel is renowned for its grand interior - with stained glass windows designed by the 18th-century portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds - and containing works by Sir Jacob Epstein and El Greco. An interesting juxtaposition for the artist’s ‘Neo-Modernist’ contemporary forms which almost project a post-modern irony, with the kind of conceptual references to materials that you might expect to find from the likes of Joseph Beuys, but not from an artist who appears to take cues from Moore and Hepworth.
The quadrangle is also home to sculpture and monuments dating back to the medieval period; this is the first occasion that the historic cloisters have hosted a solo exhibition by a contemporary artist, and Young brings a degree of site specificity to her installation; with the artist’s rich use of materials juxtaposing with the medieval stone work, and the solemnity of statuary.