We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.

🛈 Find out what you need to know before visiting


Fundamental fantasy



Coen Young


1988 –

  • Details

    Media category
    Materials used
    12 selenium toned gelatin silver photographs, framed individually
    242.0 x 149.0 cm overall
    Purchased in memory of Reginald John Vincent 2017
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Coen Young

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Coen Young

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Originally trained as a painter, Coen Young has developed a practice that is materially, and metaphorically, informed by photography. The beguiling abstract mirror paintings he has produced in recent years are made by applying silver nitrate directly onto paper that has been coated with other media and chemicals. The silver is then fixed and washed in a process that emulates the method through which a gelatin silver photograph is printed. The resulting surface is reflective yet opaque, obscuring more than it reveals.

    These paintings are proto-photographic images. Made without a camera, they distill the most elemental components of the photographic print. Yet there is no singular ‘photographic instant’ recorded here. Rather, what these works capture is the world around them. Reflecting and warping their surroundings, these mirrors are camera-like themselves. In new work, Young has begun to fold these works, and this process, back on itself. Working with a literal camera, he photographs the mirror paintings in segments that are then re-comined into gridded composits that echo the scale and format of the original painting. Yet because of the opacity of the mirrored surface, and its tendency to warp or disguise whatever it reflects, these attempts at documentation are futile. The images produced drift away from legibility and become abstract pictorial studies. Like the fallible mirrors in which reflected scenes become nebulous abstractions, these photoraphs are aesthetic objects that fail at their primary function. They, like the mirrors, do not faithfully transcribe the world but operate as discrete studies of observation. In each frame of the composite photographic whole, distorted fragments of the artist’s body and his tripod are visible. Indistinct and unclear, they nonetheless capture and memorialise the act of looking. A reflection of a reflection, this photographic work is a mise en abyme in which meaning and representation is scattered and refracted.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 1 exhibition

    • Shadow Catchers, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 Feb 2020–03 Jan 2021

Other works by Coen Young