We’re all looking for our refuge, and Josh Young, the American-born, Milan-educated artist and designer, finally found that special spot five months ago, on the 18th floor of an Art Deco high-rise in Chicago. “It’s about 500 square feet,” he says of his studio, located in the city’s Gold Coast neighborhood. “And it’s a free-for-all.”
For the last two years, Young has lived a few floors below in this same building, completed in 1929, with his husband, Ignacio Martinez. “But our apartment is more refined,” he points out. “Up here, if something inspires me, I don’t care whether there’s space for it; I just find a way to use it. Downstairs, I would never have this bunch of candles hanging on the wall. But they inspire me, so I just say, ‘Screw it. This is my studio.’”
Perusing the carefully controlled mess, it can be tough to tell where Young’s art begins and ends. The room and its antique furniture, minimalist objets, patinaed classical busts, stacks of vintage books, and other kinds of elegant clutter have all been shaped by the same deeply personal aesthetic that ties his Portrait Art, Géométrique, Rétrograde, and Bibliothèque collections together.
“I wanted to create an environment of discovery and excitement,” he explains, “so that I feel inspired, and so that people enter and feel inspired and say, ‘Oh, I love this and that and this.’ And it doesn’t even have to be my artwork, because it could be a lamp or a gilded mirror.” After all, he adds, “My work is just as much about the things I love as it is about me.”
“When I moved in, I wanted the studio to be a world apart from my apartment.”
Born in Pennsylvania, Young spent much of his childhood lurking about his favorite art museums. And though “I’ve been an artist since I was, like, six years old,” he jokes, it wasn’t until his teens that he finally got his own little atelier. “When I was 12 or 13, my parents built me an art studio in the basement. They were like, ‘This kid likes art. We should probably somehow feed into it,’” he says. “That was my sanctuary. I’d go there in the middle of the night and paint, and it was a lot like the situation that I’ve created for myself here.”
It’s a fantasy of mine for my friends to walk into this space and feel that they’re walking into an old parlor or artist studio in Paris.
The couple picked this neighborhood because they were drawn to its architecture and history. “I’m someone who needs to be around beauty to inspire me,” Young explains, “so if things are sterile, I won’t produce much. And Chicago is a great city, a beautiful city, but the Gold Coast is especially charmed. If I’m feeling uninspired, I’ll just go for a nice long walk, stop at a café, stroll along Lakeshore Drive. There’s a lot of beauty here, and there’s a lot of history here, so the creative part of me that needs to be constantly fed never goes hungry.”
Before I can release a piece of art into the world, I really have to adore it, and I have to be able to put it in my home, and I have to believe that it represents where I am as an artist right now.
His first group of work, after creating his brand and website, was the Portrait Art collection, a series of classical portraits with the eyes playfully and provocatively crossed out. “One piece, I gave to Alaina [Kaczmarski],” the cofounder of The Everygirl, “and I gave another piece to another friend, and someone else saw a piece, and someone else saw a piece, and all of these people were starting to post photos of my work to Instagram, and it all spiraled upward from there.”
Things were already going very well. “But for six months, I was working out of our dining room: processing orders, creating new pieces, handling commissions. It just got to be too much of an intrusion into daily life,” Young says, shaking his head. “I was lucky, though, because it didn’t take too long before I was able to get my own place, where I could work and have people over.”
Like his studio, his creations are meant to transcend any one particular style, just as they are meant to transcend any one particular era of history, art, or architecture. “Whenever I put out a new collection, I’m very mindful of tying it into a previous piece or collection,” Young adds, pointing to his artwork on the walls. “The ideal is that you’ll be able to pull a variety of pieces that I’ve created over the years, arrange them on a mantel, and they will somehow cohere, whether it’s a matter of color palette or texture or something else.”
His works of art are very much modern, contemporary things, yet they have classical elements, and even a nostalgic quality. “That’s very much what I’m about, and it’s very much what I want to create. I want to make a piece that, even though it’s contemporary, it will in some way take you back in time. I’ve sought genuine ways for my work to be aged, because I want my work to seem as though it’s collected, archived. I hate anything that’s brand-new or sterile.”
And there is also some nostalgia to the place where he does that work. “It is funny that, however many years later,” he says, recalling the basement work space of his teenage years, “I finally have my studio, my sanctuary, again.”