Old techniques that have been considered ‘novelty’ for at least a few decades are making a comeback. There are Polaroid cameras printing hard copy photos, RVs and the whole van life trend and then there’s neon. Neon became the “it” way to make a sign especially in the US from the 1920s to 1960s, and particularly in Las Vegas. Denver artist Scott Young began his career by making signs in L.A. at the ripe age of 18 and has evolved his precise expertise in crafting glass tubes and pumping gas through them into a bonafide art form. Since his show at RULE Gallery last November, Young has seen an elevated level of success in Denver, highlighted by the installation of his “Wish You Were Here/Her” sign atop the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA.) At the beginning of this month, a new art gallery at Wazee and 14th Street downtown called K Contemporary opened its doors with an exhibition of Young’s work, titled Gas Light Love Bomb.
There’s been other neon art around Denver and in the art community at large—like an entire section of Etsy dedicated to it— but Young doesn’t care if he’s using the same materials as other artists because he finds inspiration all around him. And he bends all of the glass pieces holding gas in his artwork by hand, something that many neon artists outsource to other fabricators. He finds catharsis in the creation of his pieces, something that shines through almost with a vengeance. Walking through one of Young’s exhibitions is an intoxicating hybrid of going to a nightclub and going to therapy— it’s at once sexy and psychologically challenging. The resonation of the gas pumping through the tubes gives viewers the feeling of being in an incubator as well, whether that be terrifying or comforting is your decision.
“The show is about a relationship,” Young remarked while walking between the front reception space of the gallery and into the main room in the back, “whether that be a relationship in your mind or with another human being. It has a lot of inner conflict, a lot of duality, and of course this underlying tone of narcissism.” The first few pieces are dedicated to the happy, innocent and hopeful qualities of a relationship— the honeymoon stages— before quickly transitioning toward a more sinister approach. Though some of the conceptual inspiration for this new exhibition shares traits from his exhibition last year at RULE, Young has developed the vision more precisely and is beginning to experiment more with his materials.
A new technique he’s exploring in Gas Light Love Bomb is the use of plinths to hold the largest pieces— a deliberate choice he makes in order to convey the heaviness of the message, that it is too heavy to hang from the wall or stand on its own. Young has also begun experimenting with the pressure he pumps the gases through the tubes, and by lowering the pressure, the gas appears in different forms instead of a solid beam of light. Some of the tubes pulsate, others appear as separate beads of light marching in a line. He now uses other gases besides neon more regularly, like argon and krypton, to produce different colors and various pressure patterns. The krypton gas he uses in one of the pieces of this exhibition was collected pre-1940s— so it is mostly free from atomic particles.
“I use neon, and other gases, because it has a soul, a purpose. It’s almost human in its energy. It has this everlasting glow to it that I’m chasing—whether that’s in a person or a piece of art.” – Scott Young
Gas Light Love Bomb is presented in three “acts”— Possibility, Reason, Disillusion. These acts are what Young believes every relationship goes through, at some point. It’s hard not to assume that Young is more bitter than some people in his opinion on relationships, but it’s also hard to deny that at some point you’ve felt the same things he’s trying to portray. Possibility is captured by the feeling of advertising your best (or even better than reality) self— of selling yourself from across the room based on a facade. Reason denotes the stage where you must be careful with what you say and how you say it. It’s the point where the luster of the beginning has faded and we are left to our logical brains rather than our bewitched hearts. Disillusion is the final act, where we all wonder if love is true or if it’s a spell we are put under for a temporary period. We wonder, after another soured relationship, if it’s us or everyone else.
Young’s work relies on redactions, where he uses neon and other gases to cross out words or overwrite existing words with new ones. This technique is important to him because it symbolizes the hidden thoughts we have, juxtaposed with the actual words we say. He’s borderline obsessed with wordplay, and he’s good at it. It’s the idea that leaving out a word or two while texting can change the entire meaning of the message, and it’s also an homage to the Freudian slip. One of his pieces has two phrases spliced together— one reads ‘I Love You’ the other reads ‘I Hate You’ and together it appears to say ‘I Have You.’
Young’s exhibition was tailored to be displayed in the space at K Contemporary. It’s a new gallery in Denver, in the space that used to be occupied by Mike Wright Gallery. But, K Contemporary is not alone in the space— it shares it with two other galleries, Abend and 1261. These two other galleries are not contemporary art spaces, making the building a multifaceted setting for viewing art. Some visitors who come to see the more traditional paintings in 1261 or Abend might be exposed to contemporary art like Young’s they would otherwise avoid. And vice versa. Owner Doug Kacena said of Young’s opening exhibition, “one of the things I’m trying to do with this gallery is to have things be a little more immersive. When people come in I want them to interact with the art. I want people to see each piece in context with the rest of the exhibition. Scott’s work is perfect for our gallery in that way. It carries the course of an entire story. You can feel in each one. I can’t tell you how many people took photos of every single piece at the opening.”
Gas Light Love Bomb will be on display at K Contemporary until December 2. In the next few weeks, Young plans on installing a video feature in one of the rooms and creating two special performances that will enhance the rest of his work (and will involved drilling a hole in the gallery floor.) Stay tuned to K Contemporary’s social channels to find out the dates for those performances and see Young’s gas-lit art before the lights turn off in December.
K Contemporary is located at 1412 Wazee Street, Denver, Colorado. It is open from noon to 6 p. m. daily. It is closed on Sundays and Mondays.