Portrait of an artist as an old man

Artist Jerry Young. Photo by Mark McDermott

Wearing a willowy, white neck beard which betrays his youthfulness, Jerry Young’s eyes gleam from under feathered eyebrows. Puffing a cigarillo, he’s reserved in discussing his role as an artist.
“I never called myself an artist. I’d call myself an art appreciator that likes to draw lines,” he said.
Young, 72, will be publicly displaying his work for the first time in 39 years of drawing starting this Saturday at Cannery Row Studios in Redondo Beach. The installation will be shared by friend and mentor, photographer Robi Hutas.
The collection of 50 photo reproductions to be displayed was originally hand drawn by Young on 8-by-4-inch table napkins using razor-point pens as his primary tool, as well as found utensils, such as the sparkle pens donated to him by the girls at Good Stuff which inspired an entire series in 2002.
“That’s the great thing about my work,” Young said, pointing to a crumpled napkin. “If I don’t like it…”
At 18, Young had been a high school dropout for two years. Eager to get away from the small Illinois village of Westmont – nicknamed “Whiskey Hill”, he said, for its precarious balance of 12 churches and 13 bars – he loaded his ’53 Oldsmobile Super 88 convertible and with two buddies took off for California, landing in Hermosa Beach in the summer of 1957.

Napkin Art by Jerry Young

“For me, having grown up in the Midwest, it was like standing at the edge of a picture frame, trying to figure out how to get into this beautiful picture. That was my first impression of California,” said Young.
He spent several weeks sleeping under the pier with only a cup of coffee and a sweet roll as his daily meal before being upgraded to the back of a hamburger stand. It became clear to Young that if he was to make it in California he was going to need to be employable, and so he returned to Westmont and completed his remaining two years of high school.
After financial complications forced him to leave Southern Illinois University prematurely, he returned to Hermosa in 1962, taking work as a night cook at Pio’s on the pier (where Cantina Real now sits). A late night hangout for the 4th Street chapter of the Hell’s Angels and other “rowdies”, Young said it is here that he first met Hutas, although neither recalls this meeting. The two later became involved in the emerging art scene of the ‘70s which grew out of Wilfred Sarr’s studio in Hermosa.
Young started drawing after a failed marriage left him 34 years old and unemployed, with nothing better to do than hang around coffeehouses on the pier. He said it “felt good” to draw, and the attention it brought from the ladies was motivation to continue.
However it was only within the last few years that Young’s friend became aware of his body of work.
“[Hutas] says ‘Bully, you gotta show this work.’ And I said, ‘How are we going to show a napkin?’ If it wasn’t for Robi, I would not be having a show. He mentored me all the way,” said Young.

Napkin Art by Jerry Young

Young’s guiding principle to drawing fits succinctly in a poem, which unsurprisingly he wrote:
It matters not from whence it comes or where it goes
It’s art if it has balance and it flows.
An appreciator of curved lines, Young said he seldom plans his drawings, instead adding lines until he has established some semblance of balance and flow.
He said he wouldn’t be comfortable having his installation anywhere other than Cannery Row.
“It’s my kind of an art gallery, because I don’t feel like I have to put on my best clothes and jewelry and walk around holding my wine glass just right and all that shit. This is the old kind of studio where people come and have a good time and stumble about a bit and look at some art,” he said. ER

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