A sea of warm, bold pinks, greens, and neon yellows fill the space and my vision. It makes me think of summer and the joy that comes with it. All areas of the medium-sized studio are decorated with these vibrant colors.
The space is as warm and inviting as Mary Younkin herself, dressed colorfully in florals with rainbow-colored shades, as she offers me a beverage on this very hot 90-degree Friday afternoon. It was a watermelon seltzer and quite refreshing.
The space is Younkin’s studio. She got the studio in 2019. Her “oasis” as she calls it with its large window with open light and white walls decorated with her colorful art which is a bit reminiscent of Matisse and the Fauvism era. In her pop-art approach, you can see the California influences.
Born in Fountain Valley, California in 1982, Mary grew up in a big family with five siblings of which she was the youngest. Since she is the youngest by twelve years, she was raised kind of like an only child. Due to the large age gap, Younkin was given a bit more freedom to figure herself and things out.
As a kid, Younkin really gravitated towards art but it wasn’t until she was in Catholic high school that she solidified herself as an artist. She was a self-proclaimed art geek and would hang out in the art room. High school had become her safe haven where she could explore and grow in her artistry. Art was also Younkin’s way of being rebellious. She still feels like a rebellious teenager whenever she does art.
“Art has always been sort of self expression and sort of a little bit of a rebellion or commentary,” said Younkin.
She went on to study art professionally at California College of the Arts in the Bay Area. Then in 2008, Younkin moved to New York for graduate school. She went to Parsons School of Design – The New School and received her MFA. She has stayed in NYC ever since and resides and works in Greenpoint with her husband, their son and their cats.
Younkin has lived in Greenpoint for nine years now and on and off since 2010. She loves this community. Greenpoint has been so supportive to her. She joined the Greenpoint Art Circle which has been so wonderful for her to be surrounded by other artists. They host events both artist related and just fun, unwinding events like karaoke. Within Greenpoint, she did a cool project for a wine store on McGuinness Boulevard. She was able to do a custom piece for their exhibition which was site specific. Younkin is hoping to do more custom pieces and installations, especially in the community.
The Artist/Mother Network is another group she is a member of that has also been very supportive. Unfortunately, there’s a stigma prevalent in the art world with being both a mother and an artist. That stigma caused Younkin to worry about not being able to produce enough artwork when she was pregnant. So she had things ready in the studio like the paint pours so that she could do collages when she came back from leave. Although, getting prepared did help her to stop being so hard on herself.
Being a mother and turning 40 has really influenced her work. Younkin feels like her more recent work such as the paint pours and collages has her thinking about transformation and growth. She is evolving through her art as she is evolving in real life. The paint pours challenged Younkin to being open to trying something new, to cease a bit of control and not be “super planned or super fine tuned.” She doesn’t know what she’s going to create and what patterns will appear when she takes the cup full of paint and silicone off the canvas.
Doing the box wood panel collages and bedazzling them with gemstones and working on a smaller scale instead of her big canvases has been an intimate experience. It is also a way to be meditative with all the stress in the world with the pandemic, the recent tragedies, and life for example.
She has also been influenced by other Californian artists such as Robert Bechtle, Anna Valdez, and Hilary Pecis. But also influenced by non-California artists such as Hilary Doyle who she met when she was a member of the NYC Crit Club.
Younkin, through the many techniques she uses, is all about creating a narrative. Whether that narrative is about her life, motherhood or being a woman, hers is a diaristic approach. She likes to include the mundane, everyday parts of her lived experience in her work such as a potted plant or a book. She actually has included some books that her book club has read in her artwork such as Things She Learned About Her Body and Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl.
Many of the techniques she utilizes are rooted into the Arts and Craft movement in California. Younkin’s undergrad was founded in that movement. The Arts and Craft movement is more about craftsmanship and the hands being centered.
“So for me, I think that’s like a feminist act to be able to say…I’m making something by hand, and making something without apology, and just doing something that feels natural to me,” Younkin said.
It is how she came to do her Flower Power series — a series of pieces all about flowers. The prominent vibrant series that mostly surrounds her studio. Flower Power is a response to the election, the feelings of being silenced and powerless to what’s happening in the world. For Younkin, making this series was an act of resistance. She was unapologetic in her femininity and in the use of bold, bright colors. She was able to debut this series in 2021 at Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook.
“I just feel joy in doing it [art]. I feel like it’s more than, it’s more than just a thing that I do. Or like a hobby, right? It’s like a part of my identity,” Younkin said.
She feels her most authentic self when she makes art and has so much fun doing it. Younkin gets to play and now that she has had her son, she realizes her inner child comes out now with art. That she is learning to balance “being serious” but also reminding herself to be silly and not be consumed with too many worries.
Younkin is working on figuring out her next project and hoping to get more gallery/exhibitions opportunities too in the future. Folks can check out her work on her website and Instagram and get a little more color in their lives.