• Wilamina Russo

Zoe Young

At five in the morning, when the day is quiet and her young children are in bed, Zoe Young heads to her studio to start at the canvas. “I beat them to the day otherwise I’m beaten into it by them.” A winner of the Portia Geach Memorial and multiple leading prize finalist including the Archibald, Zoe is one of Australia’s leading still-life and portrait painters.

Born in the Southern Highlands to a ski instructor father and a chef mother, Zoe left the region in her 20s to travel the globe. After almost a decade away, she returned to Australia and finished a Fine Arts degree in Sydney at the National School of Arts. Now based in the Southern Highlands amongst her family, Zoe has returned home to paint her family folklore - the people and things around her.

In 1994 she sold her first piece amongst controversy and scandal. The Jindabyne Art show has never been the same. Zoe home from boarding school, painted a naked woman enjoying a cup of coffee, using an old door as her canvas. The piece was displayed at the front of the Jindabyne Memorial Hall and snapped up by a woman from Melbourne for $185. But not before a number of locals complained about the risqué nature of the piece. Especially from a young woman herself!

A self-professed lover and collector of books, Zoe adores the language of art and uses it liberally. When she talks about painting she speaks of “starting a conversation on the canvas, that painting is itself a massive dialogue. An apple ceases to be just a piece of fruit and more so a convergence of shadows and light and colour.”

Her tertiary studies at Sydney’s national art school undoubtedly playing into the depth of knowledge and understanding that Zoe has about her craft. Taking inspiration from the stories of other artists, Paris in the 1920’s is a particularly fond era of hers. “From reading about their lives you form a dialogue with those artists that then informs your own work.”

When it comes to her biggest fan and critic, Young’s mother plays the dual role.

How does Zoe kick the creative funk?

I go for a walk or swim if it’s a minor creative funk. If I’m working within a particular painting that is an issue, I will go for a walk, or go for a swim, go have a cup of coffee somewhere else, and that tends to solve it. Turning the canvas the other way always solves it.

And then sometimes I think a creative funk, I think that it’s actually a really good thing. I love it, I embrace it when you become dissatisfied with your work. I think it really means you are heading somewhere, it means you’re about to have a real strive or a breakthrough because you are really thinking and you’re really concentrating and you don’t know exactly where you want to go but you know you don’t want to be where you are.

For me it’s a quite an exciting time where it means that shit is going to change.

You can view and purchase Zoe's work at www.zoeyoung.com and Instagram @z.y.o.e

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