Richard first sees himself as a husband, father and grandfather. Through his grandparents, on both paternal and maternal sides, Richard descends from First Nations peoples from across Victoria, from Lake Condah in the West, Mooroopna in the North, and Gippsland to the South and the East. He is a part of a far-flung dynastic network, which includes politicians, artists, writers, sportspeople, and musicians.
From his parents of Gunnai, Yorta Yorta, and Gunditjmara descent, Richard continues drawing inspiration from the traditions of his family and ancestors with a deeper connection with the Gunnai, who are the traditional owners of Gippsland, from the coastal areas to the southern slopes of the Victorian Alps.
Various forms of artistic expression, including writing and painting, were of utmost importance to Richard from the young age. He grew in his understanding of art from his Uncle Ray Thomas and was encouraged to explore and grow his practice from his brother-in-law Kevin Williams, as he began painting and exhibiting professionally. The powerful visual vocabulary and aesthetic acumen of his works is garnering a wider curatorial support and collectors’ following, culminating to date in Gunnai Vibrations, the solo presentation of the artist’s works at Gippsland Art Gallery in Sale.
Richard is an advocate for increasing the understanding of knowledge focusing on the distinct difference between community groups and traditional forms of cultural structures. Together with his wife Judith their children and extended family members, they deliver Spirit of the Brand workshops from their Warrandyte studios, Young continues to educate and bridge fragmented societies.
The connection to the Country is foremost in Richard’s paintings. Elements of the traditional geometric designs of his Gunnai heritage cover his paintings in cross-hatch patterns. In others, they appear as a series of deep grooves and gashes to convey the painful experiences of Gippsland First Nations communities as well as the destruction of the land.
However, messages of regeneration prevail. Just like the native vegetation takes over the abandoned mines or burnt-out forests, or just like the skin grows over a wound, paint fills the grooves to heal, replenish, and regenerate.
Catharsis is a major theme within Richard’s work. Both from a personal, environmental and communal standpoint, the artist juxtaposes the pain with healing, the burning with regeneration, and the destruction with reconciliation. Stressing the importance of progression within his works, he establishes an optimistic landscape for Aboriginal artist and groups to see an inclusive and vibrant future for Australia.
The creation of each work is a physical, energetic, and visceral process. Paint is rarely applied with the brush, if at all. The element of chance and randomness, however controlled, informs the creative impulse. Pigments are dripped, splattered, or thrown into the air, forming its own rhythmic patterns, directed by gravity and magnetic fields. Canvasses either rest on the floor or are pinned to the outer walls of the studio, exposing them to the elements and making them one with nature. The surfaces are gouged and scraped back with the hand-sander to reveal the layers of paint, the primers, and bare canvas underneath. The process is repeated again until that ephemeral feeling of completion is attained.
"For me I just chuck up from within, a detoxification from within me coming out onto the canvas. I say to people I can’t plan to paint because its not me, I don’t know what I’m going to paint and I just keep going with layers upon layers upon layers and then it just happens. I get an idea of colour so I throw some colour on and then another colour just speaks and it just happens. I paint how I feel.Twenty layers on every stage and when I get to the end sometimes I go nah, and throw water on it, peel it back and restart. I just see things in my head and colours and then I just throw them on to the canvas and they come together how they do."
In each of the pieces, the dominant palette and the overall techniques vary subtly to reflect Gippsland’s various areas, which come under the artist’s investigation.In some of the paintings, rich palettes of bright colours sway and tremble, capturing the carpet of local and introduced shrubs and flowers, growing by, or partially submerged within, the waterways. In others, the deep blues evoke the fathomless expanses of the seas. In yet another set of works the dazzling whites reflect the frozen peaks of the Alpine mountains. Metallic paints are judiciously introduced to enhance the shimmering effect of the morning dew or the foggy haze. Painting always change the vantage point—whether offering a bird’s eye view, a traditional abstracted perspective, or an inverted view, lying flat on one’s back, catching a glimpse of the sun, the clouds, and the sky, through the forest canopies.
The choice of each pigment is deeply rooted in the local colours of Gippsland, demonstrating the artist’s spiritual connection with the Country as well as individual specimens of native flora, which continues thriving and surviving in spite of the imposition of introduced species. Richard reminds the viewer of the importance of the native species, which were (and continue to be) of vital importance as the source of nutrition and medicinal value for the local communities (Richard’s great grandfather had a bush medicine store in Footscray, which epitomised the richness of the land, where medicinal and nutritious plants grew like in the Biblical Garden of Eden).
"For this exhibition - I was coming back from Gippsland and I saw the open cut mine in Sale. Normally I would get upset by it but I believe what god said to me - you come from a wealthy land and you are from the land and therefore you are also wealthy because all these minerals are in/with you. All the colours in this collection are the colours of the wealth that are in our land and therefore in us as Gunnai people."
The title of the exhibition, Wealthy Wurruk Wealthy People, sums us the diversity of colours and textures within it. Wurruk, meaning Country, refers to Gippsland’s wealth of natural resources which sustained the First Nations of the area for tens of thousands of years, just like they continue sustaining settlers’ communities to the present day. The intrinsic wealth of the people is indivisible from the wealth of the country that supplies the seemingly unending resources of food and water. The land continues healing and regenerating itself as the symbol of the healing and regeneration process of local indigenous communities.
Richard was inspired by the techniques of painters such as Gerhard Richter, Robert Natkin and Mark Bradford in producing his work for this collection.