"I intend my sculptures to be koans: hybrid, paradoxical constructions that invite an opening and alteration of our patterned constructs and an awakening of our senses. I am interested in contributing to the vocabulary that will tell a new collective story: a new mythology that redefines mystery, sensuality, beauty, silence, and imagination as crucial to our earthly co-existence. The imagery is archetypal; like dreams, it is part familiar and part unknown. Both koan and dream require contemplation and a turning inward for understanding.
I draw what I have not yet seen. I work on the image with the paper on the floor, wall, and table. In addition to trowels, scraping tools, spoons, brushes, and string, I use my forearm, palm, and fingers as extensions of core - the locus from where the forms originate - to move the color on the surface. I mix many of my own mediums and use pigment in powder form. Drawing frees me from the constraints of gravity and the rigors of construction. It is a dance, rendering still form to movement."
- Millicent Young
Millicent Young is a sculptor. She has had many of her works featured in places such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Merida, Mexico, the Suffolk Museum of Art in Virginia, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., the University of Maryland, and Sweet Briar College in Virginia. Click here to visit Young's website.
Paper , Plaster, Ink, Lead (2016)
Known Not Known (2013-2014)
By: Dominique Mills, Seraphin Gallery Intern
The Seraphin Galley is proud to introduce artist Millicent Young to our portfolio. Millicent's sculptures are intended to be koans: anecdotal Buddhist teachings meant to alter our patterned constructs, repair numbed senses and redefine the fabric of culture. She describes the fabric of culture as a "rupture of connection" that "renders us senseless and therefore only brutal. Art can be a transformer: it can bypass rational, linear processes; it can stir the heart." Currently Seraphin Gallery is exhibiting Song, a piece created within the last five years that is a strong example of her work and compositional inclinations.
In Song, she arouses the imagination through a mysterious connection of cherry wood and horse hair; creating a solid winding limb, from which pours delicate and fragile white strands. The cherry wood's bored center invites you to explore and experience its sensual strength. The horse hair, extending from the core of the piece, co-exists with the cherry wood paradoxically. The sculpture as a whole is a conversation on empathy. This much needed conversation is the result of silent reflection and observation. Song communicates warmth and compassion through the almost otherworldly connection of two natural elements. Both the horse hair and the wood are familiar objects and the connection between them is at once tender and understanding.
Millicent Young is based out of Virginia. Young earned a BA from The University of Virginia and a MFA at James Madison University. Her work has been featured in many places both nationally and internationally such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Merida, Mexico, the Florence Biennale in Italy, the Suffolk Museum of Art in Virginia, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C, the University of Maryland and Sweet Briar College in Virginia.
We believe Millicent Young’s work shows innovation and invention, not only in technique and material, but also in form and balance. Her piece, Song, and the installation featured in the picture above create an atmospheric quality that transforms space and invites the viewer to engage with the work. The tactile forms of her pieces reach through perspective and translate organic patterns and textures. While Young's process may seem limited, her practice crosses between sculpture to installation, drawing, and painting. We look forward to continuing to work with Millicent Young and to featuring her within our portfolio.
Song is on display in Gallery Two of Seraphin Gallery. Other work by Millicent Young can be seen on her website and in our catalogue on our website. To view our new artist page for Millicent Young, please click here.
Millicent Young is a sculptor based out of Virginia. Young earned her BA from the University of Virginia and she earned her MFA at James Madison University. After earning her MFA, she established her own studio called Swift Run Studio in 1998. She has had works featured in many places both nationally and internationally such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Merida, Mexico, the Florence Biennale in Italy, the Suffolk Museum of Art in Virginia, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C, the University of Maryland and Sweet Briar College in Virginia.
Sweet Briar College, Virginia
Greater Reston Arts Center, Virginia
Portsmouth Art Center, Virginia
University of Maryland
NOVA Community College, Virginia
By Ann Landi, Vasari21 , 10/2/16
When Millicent Young was growing up in Manhattan, in a progressive and intellectual family who lived on the Upper West Side, “art was considered as important as being polite to people on the street and doing my homework,” she recalls. Her mother, a student of Margaret Mead, taught anthropology at Finch College and her father was a scholar of political science and American government who eventually founded the first oral history program in the country on the American presidency.
Young herself went to the Dalton School, a private institution that encouraged creativity among its students. “My earliest memory is that I was always making things or inventing dances,” she says. “My imagination was never discouraged, and Dalton was so supportive.” Spending her formative years in New York also had an impact. “I wandered around the city completely off the leash.” In a challenging urban setting like Manhattan, as she notes, “you learn to take care of yourself.” You also get to sample the whole cultural smorgasbord, from opera to theater to museums.
But the artist notes that summers on Cape Cod from the time she was six also influenced her later direction. “I had these important adolescent epiphanies about my place in the great scheme of things,” she says, “about how we’re related to both nature and culture.” Then, when she was 14, her mother did field work in St. Vincent, one of the Grenadine Islands. “It was a great place to find myself as a citizen of the world,” she recalls. “I developed this incredible empathy for and connection with people who led such different lives from mine, who lived in such dire circumstances. I don’t think I ever saw a division between being an urban dweller, a rural person, or a citizen of the world.”
Next came a couple of years at Wesleyan University, where she found the art curriculum hard to get into as a freshman and sophomore, and so she filled up some of her course requirements with classes in art history because she could “sit in a room with several hundred people, looking at amazing images.” But when she transferred to the University of Virginia, Young elected for a psychology major and went on to graduate studies in developmental psychology at the University of Denver. “It was a topnotch program,” she says, “but I realized I’d gotten on the wrong bus all over again.”
She wanted to be making art and, after dropping out of Denver, landed a job in a private school near Charlottesville,VA. “The whole time I was teaching I was working intensely hard at my own art, developing my own forms and my own voice.” Realizing that she needed to focus more on her nascent vision, Young once again entered graduate school, this time on a full teaching fellowship to James Madison University in Harrisburg, VA. “What I needed was time to focus, and this was like a three-year residency. I really developed my own curriculum for my students, because nobody cared. But what came out was really myself as an artist.”
Young concedes that she’s been a late bloomer, but two years after earning an MFA, she was awarded the top prize in art in the state, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Professional Fellowship, followed by the same award 15 years later in 2014. “Those accolades mean so much when you’re first testing the waters as an artist.”
By then she was in Virginia full time. In addition to adjunct teaching,, she easily found work as a gardener, an occupation that has informed her sculpture and drawing in a multitude of ways. I first encountered Young’s work in 2002, as a juror for a show at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art. The 12-foot-long assemblage she had submitted, called Remigration, was hands-down several cuts about the rest, a beguiling amalgam of such things as X-rays, Monarch butterfly wings, and dangling scrolls made of clay, all loosely positioned within open window frames. At the center is a shape suggestive of a human torso. The piece vaguely recalled Duchamp’s touchstone masterpiece, The Large Glass, without the fanciful and obliquely sexual references.
Since the mid-1990s, Young has developed a rich vocabulary that alludes to the mythologies of different cultures, environmental devastation, the brutality of war, and personal loss. But none of this is realized in a tendentious or sentimental way; her materials—like horsehair, rounds of hickory, and grapevines—derive from the natural world and her vision is almost resolutely abstract. One can guess, for example, from the series called “Vessels,” some of which are up to 20 feet long, that these were inspired by the boats from Greek or Norse mythology, but they are nevertheless airy, ethereal, and fundamentally non-allusive. (They are also highly labor intensive: to make the series, Young drilled holes into the wood and then threaded or glued horsehair—up to 24 hairs per hole—into the support.)
During work on a series called “Known/Not Known,” her father became suddenly ill and quickly succumbed to cancer. “Death became a story that accompanied this work,” she recalls. Thirteen months later, her mother, too, was dead. “What was happening in my life provided the narrative.”
Young’s work has never been overtly autobiographical, but in a plaster relief called Ghosts and in Transitory, an airy shimmer of two-inch squares of lead affixed to filaments on thread and copper wire, she inadvertently realized she was working through this period of loss and transition. Ghosts might allude to the four members of her family, three of whom were now gone.
Recently she has been completing large installations that depend largely on the light-trapping qualities of horsehair and the subtle gradations of tone she achieves through clustering the individual filaments together. These works seem to be taking her toward an ever-more environmental kind of art, installations that are as potent as a sudden rainstorm.
By Sarah Sargent, C-Ville, 11/14/13
I was completely captivated by Millicent Young’s radiant show at Chroma Projects. Composed of horsehair and found wood, Young’s work thrums with nature and speaks to ancient mysteries that our modern selves can only dimly grasp.
“The known, the unknown, and the unknowable is a trinity that has been with me a very long time,” Young said. “What is folded into this work, the mystery is also the unknowable. I am interested in contributing to the vocabulary that will tell a new collective story: a new mythology that redefines mystery, sensuality, beauty, stillness, and imagination as crucial to our earthly co-existence.”
For Young, the mythology we’ve had in place for thousands of years is failing us. “We are now on this precipice of destruction,” said Young. “Something is wrong here and so in thinking about a new mythology, I thought to myself ‘we can’t possibly know what that is,’ but we have to go into that place of not knowing, that place of uncertainty, that place that every artist goes into, and every mystic goes into.”
Young began clipping chunks of hair from horses of hers that had died as commemorative relics. She continued this practice in the remote part of the Piedmont where she used to live, snipping off parts of the tail of a deer she’d come across that had been slaughtered in a wanton, rapacious, and illegal way (out of hunting season), as a means of honoring these wild beings, later incorporating the fur into brushes and rope.
One day, after the hanks of horsehair had been hanging around her studio for quite some time, she decided to incorporate some of the horsehair into a wooden sculpture she was working on. At first, it was an ancillary material used like string to bind the work together. Gradually it moved to the forefront as she began to see the potential of the material, the process of gathering it, the way it behaved, how it responded to light, and the rituals around washing, preparing, and finally using it.
Perhaps because we’re accustomed to it—seeing it in violin and cello bows and such—horsehair has none of the creepy overtones we get from human hair woven into Victorian funerary jewelry or hung in great clumps in installations by contemporary artist, Sheela Gowda. Horsehair is clean, pure, and quite simply beautiful, with a peculiar evanescent quality that makes the strands almost seem lit from within.
Young stresses that her fascination with horsehair didn’t stem from her being a horsewoman, although she has ridden all her life—that was kind of irrelevant. She is drawn to it because of its physical quality and she uses it in her work as a potent stand-in for nature.
“We live now in the wake of a Cartesian paradigm,” Young said. “The loss of stillness, imagination, critical thinking, and sensuality are collateral damage in the epidemic of global destruction we have wrought. Collectively, we continue to behave in our destructive ways in spite of the facts. Art and Earth define us as human beings. The rupture of connection with either renders us senseless and therefore only brutal.”
For Young, art is the answer to this “narcosis that numbs us.” Transformative, art—both the making of it and the experiencing of it—gets us back in touch with our inner selves. Young has turned her back on technology, embracing a natural rhythm and approach. Her work is labor intensive and in toiling on it hour after hour, drilling holes, threading hair, pulling knots, she produces work that “forms itself” and “contains the precise moment, emotion, thought, and gesture of its making.”
Looking at the ethereal “Not Known (continuum)” and ravishing “Not Known [(un)furl],” I’m not quite sure what it is, but there’s a “thereness” there. A poet friend of Young’s calls it “the large,” the thing that is greater than the self. I hesitate to use loaded terms, but I will venture to say that it’s something quite holy: the presence of the absence of the horse—and as Young would hope—of nature itself. I was reminded of an article I read in The New York Times(“Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer,” Eric Weiner, March 9, 2012) about the Celtic concept of “thin places” where the distance between heaven and earth is particularly narrow, affording a glimpse of the divine.
“Sit in this extremely uncomfortable place of what’s going to happen next,” said Young. Staring at the blank page if you’re a writer, at the blank canvas if you’re a painter, or for a sculptor basically you’re sitting in an empty space without even materials and that’s the space of not knowing.”
Aside from the elegiac feeling we get looking at these pieces knowing what we know about the state of our fragile planet, perhaps their inherent holiness has something to do with the fact that Young was working on them as her father was dying. Having been through that journey, ushering a beloved parent (actually two) from this world into the next, I can tell you it is a sacred task that brings you right up against the thin membrane separating our existence from that unknown other.
By Deborah McLeod
Millicent Young has always used form and material to explore ideas that are fully beyond the realm of matter and structure. Equally paradoxical, the construction process for each nuance she assembles is so meticulous and involved, consuming hours of time devoted to all the minutia that the perfection of artifice demands. All is done in order to create these uniquely ephemeral entities of metaphor. Turning solids into vapor has a name - sublimation. That conversion is what Millicent Young's work essentially seeks to achieve.
Known / Not Known is, to perhaps put it in a more playful cartoon-like term, like dumping flour on a ghost we suspected was present so as to see it's amoebic shape shiftily creeping about beside us. That ghost, in this particular instance, is Time.
Time has long courted the imagination of the mystic and the scientist. As coy and unpredictable as it is, we humans believe ourselves to have some understanding of it, having assigned it some numeric trustworthiness by which we might at least measure its passing. But of course, that is just our chivalrous and charmingly modern conceit. Time on its larger scale (where it tends to prevail) is much more flexible and elusive than the most reliable Rolex would ever admit.
In Known / Not Known, time has many scaffolds that it assumes. It is a wall, a veil, a spiral, a path, a vessel, a book, a circle, or, in many cases, an extension or structure that has no nomenclature, drawing purely on the unraveling mathematical indiscretions of nature to determine its framework. That framework establishes the juncture between the past and the present. That juncture is the artist's portraiture of the living, the sensory, intellectual, and superstitious existence that we who are here today enjoy. On one side - either side - is the past, the other, the future. Young's towering scrims between those places are gentle, seemingly alive, somewhat enabling and somewhat deceptive. The slightest breeze can part them, a sharp silhouette, strong light or vivid color can trespass, but whatever quality is seen through them is always altered in some way.
Time, in Young's definition, is not a lost hour, or an impenetrable wall to the past, nor is it the certainty of a date inked on the calendar, or a vow made as unto death. It is perception, awareness, imagination, the planetary movements that determine days and years turned into memory, poems, prayers and songs that reveal or envision stories outside of our brief personal experience. And there is death - most assuredly woven into the fine pensile strands of horsehair - always with birth glistening along the same fluid filament. Those are certainly the two events we assign to time most finitely to cling to the veils of the juncture, to remain acutely to each individual, yet invisible to others, gently parting slightly when something happens to create a new disturbance in the air.
Why hair, of all materials, would the artist choose to define the limens of time? Aside from horsehair holding an autobiographical component for the artist who has lived with horses most of her life, hair has an important place in biology as a symbolic material. It originates from a living source to form chains of amino acids, the essential ingredient of life, making it a natural surrogate for existence. It has sensual and sexual characteristics that stimulate reminiscence and desire. It can grow long enough to inspire biblical myths and fairy tales about entrapment, wisdom, strength and salvation. And if it is indeed horsehair, it can include a vast provenance of historical uses. Artist brushes, violin strings, early pottery and basketry, fishing line, wigs, petticoats, and blueprints used horsehair as a medium. Like everything incorporating human act, aptitude, creativity, foresight and folly, it encircles what it describes to form its matrix.
We invite the viewer to wander amid Millicent Young's incandescent work in Known / Not Known, and temporarily abandon what he or she is accustomed to thinking about life before, during and after. We welcome each to imagine the confluence between existence and memory, what we consider knowledge and superstition (a word I intend in its earliest etymology, where it derives from the Latin superstitio, meaning "to stand over in awe." ) It is a term also related to the Latin word superstes ("outliving" or "surviving"), which in this sense refers to the remains of ideas and beliefs that continued long after their original meaning had been forgotten. However these striking works strike you, we hope you will enjoy the passage through them and the eternal spirit that whispers within them.
By Gerald Ross
I was introduced to Millicent Young’s work in 2012 as I was curating a group show of works by artists in the mid-Atlantic region and I was immediately drawn to it. My first reaction in looking at her work was to think of a multitude of questions: “What are these? Where do they come from? How do these strange, enigmatic objects fit into the way we understand contemporary art?” Her work stood apart for me from what I am used to seeing – work that is overly conscious of recent trends in art-making, trying to find its place amongst current trends. I am completely beguiled by these sculptures, mainly because of their deep curiosity – curiosity as objects. They are surreal and exhibit a proto-futurist grace which emanates a kind of ancient, talismanic presence, relics from a time long since gone… They are mysterious and protective, power figures.
They are also sophisticated abstractions: a vine bends around itself and then rests against a vertical wall, a line hanging in midair, a shadowy structure emerging from beneath a translucent veil. The fact that the works offer so many possibilities for interpretation gives them their strength. Young’s art asks us big questions – and the questions that these works ask gain us entry into the complex gift of Young’s vision and practice. Even the unanswerability of the questions in this work is an interesting factor: there is greater conceptual permanence and purpose.
Anchored in communion with the earth and informed by an acute sense of space and a quest for spiritual health, Young’s ultimate artistic prerogative is to gain access to a place she refers to as the “Not Knowing” of things. Her processes and materials provide a pathway to this elusive mental place. Transformation occurs, where we can be reminded of our minute place in the larger world; also that if we so choose, we have all we would require for existence, around us in the natural world. In this way, these works are deeply political, even if this is a secondary intention. The sculptures are emblematic of the artist’s solace and contemplation. Young purposefully lives apart and away from what she considers to be the “bling of what is considered to be contemporary art.”
She lives alone on a farm in rural Virginia, and adjacent to her artistic practice, is an expert gardener. She has a great understanding of plant materials and properties, which is absolutely evident in her work. Her surroundings are an idyllic place to meditate and converse with the natural world – where the processes of life and death are close and as equally beautiful and sensory. She has chosen to distance herself from a commodity-based kind of art-making, from work that she considers to be merely superficial meanderings. She rejects the idea of making art that mirrors or is informed by the pace, social structures, or ironic trappings of contemporary culture. Instead, she prefers to find the roots of her language in the quiet, the simple, and the often overlooked: a scant sweep of snow across a field grazed by the morning sun, a gust that suddenly arrives out of the trees and then is gone, an ambient sound that lies just behind the sounds of ordinary life.
She chooses her materials carefully and specifically to saturate her work not with grandiosity or pointed societal commentary but instead with innately understood natural and human truths. The material informs her hand. Like single breaths in motion, she repetitively weaves, wraps, binds and threads, finding and adding elements from her own everyday surroundings – horsehair, decayed wood, stones, vine. The process of this repetition may seem practical in methodology to the viewer, but for Young, the actions are a means for removing herself from overt awareness in the process and according to Young “do not amount to anything” until weight and space are realized in open-ended form. After all, “a breath taken after a breath after a breath is life”.
Young envisions her artistic self not as an anarchist working against popular, material cultural standards. Her practice is not to be viewed as political – at least not overtly, but as an intimate conversation about what is essential. Young considers herself “an artist who is first a citizen and has social responsibility”. She feels that it is very important that artists are leaders and participants in society, not just reflective or passive commentators. Young believes that personal transformation happens through being physically and mindfully present, still; that transformation occurs through spiritual means, through the basic practices that all spiritual traditions cultivate: silence, contemplation, and a willingness to be static…to pause even at a place of discomfort. Young’s sculptures are these cultivation tools for deepening consciousness. They imply or suggest an opportunity for change: from a world that is frenetic or chaotic to a world not steeped in psychic clutter, violence, or waste, a world filled with the mysteries of the “not knowing.”
And then, as Millicent Young says, “from here it is all ripples.”