The Story Of A Not-So-Tortured Artist

Kent Youngstrom
Kent Youngstrom

Being a professional artist takes a lot of work. From developing new and creative ideas to executing and then promoting them, the life of an artist is a constant challenge but if you want to succeed you’ve got to put yourself out there.  Kent Youngstrom, a full-time professional artist works hard and is the first to admit that he “got lucky, but also worked his [butt] off.”  

He didn’t start out in life wanting to be an artist.  Youngstrom dreamt of being a professional baseball player.  Living in Chicago this seemed a natural choice of careers with the Chicago Cubs right in his backyard, but life decided otherwise.  He won a soccer scholarship to the University of Charleston and during one of his semesters while attending he signed up for an art class.  “I was scared to death.  I thought everyone would be Goth and wearing black, but it turned out the teacher was a normal dude.  The class was full of girls and me,” says Youngstrom.  

“After college, I was looking for a job in Chicago when I started painting in my Grandma’s laundry room.  A neighbor and family friend started getting pieces, and then a friend of theirs who was an art rep came by and asked ‘Why aren’t you selling this stuff?’ She helped a lot,” says Youngstrom.

However, moving to Charlotte had nothing to do with becoming an artist nor had it ever crossed his mind.  A job brought him and his family to the Queen City, but “literally in less than a year” after moving south, Youngstrom found himself unemployed, raising a family, and paying on a new mortgage.  To overcome these new trials and tribulations, his entire family pitched in. His wife got a job in the city and Youngstrom started cutting lawns in the neighborhood to pay the bills.  

Then, out of necessity, Youngstrom picked up the paint brush and started building a body of work. “I produced a cheap shutter-fly book, 10 to 20 pages, showing off pieces. I emailed it to anyone and everyone that I thought had cool work.  A year from then, I had orders coming in; it was hard work,” he says.  Now, Youngstrom paints for a living, specializing in original art, mixed media, canvas, board, digital, and even meshes his pieces with words in collaboration with writer A. Franzen.   

“One gallery show led to another, to sales with friends and family, to local, to national and finally to a licensing deal and bulk orders from CB2,” says Youngstrom.  Crate and Barrel, the national upscale contemporary housewares store now sells his art to customers by the droves.  

Having started painting only several years ago, Youngstrom had no expectations.  “It was hard work and took a lot of time. But it was fun, and I soon found myself hooked.  A typical day starts at 5am,” he says. “I work out, take the kids to school, do a computer check for new orders, and then plant myself in the center of at least 10 half-covered canvases rarely moving till nightfall.  I’m usually splattered in about seven different colors of paint. It’s a good way to move through the world.”

Because life is complicated enough, Youngstrom keeps his work “simple.”  His objective is to “make you look.”  “I want my paintings to talk to you.  I want you to want it.  If it doesn’t, don’t buy it,” he says.  If you turn the tables on him, Youngstrom side steps the topic for a very good reason.   “I don’t like talking about my art.  It’s abstract, and I put a little of me into each one.  If you don’t get it; you don’t need it.”   

As his inspiration, Youngstrom turns up the music, and just let’s go.  “It’s almost like working out. The energy flows.  My strokes are totally random and abstract.  I started out painting circles 4-5 years ago, but I don’t know why; they just appeared.  Perhaps it’s because I prefer to work in chaos,” he says.  Focusing on composition of color and texture, Youngstrom works in acrylics using oil sticks on only certain parts of his canvas.

Complementing his craft, Youngstrom has now opened his studio to students. In his garage in Matthews, Youngstrom teaches people to let go and just paint. His classes are relaxing and fun, and for many therapeutic.  Youngstrom gives each student 4-5 colors and tells them to follow what he does. Some need help while others “go off the grid.”  “I teach them not to worry, to let go.” says Youngstrom. His classes get students out of their comfort zone, allowing them to remove all of their expectations of what the art piece will turn into. This allows the art abstract to become what it was meant to become.

The direction of Youngstrom’s life still shocks him.  “I’m a self-taught, full-time, professional artist,” he says.  “When I receive a catalogue with my work in it, it’s surreal. I want to pinch myself.   [And yet,] I feel as if I’m behind the curve.  I grind out work every day, every single day.  If I’m not painting, I’m playing with my kids and spending time with the wife.” Needless to say, Youngstrom is “humble” and considers his life blessed.
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