Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information




Australian art

Contemporary art


View More:


Fundamental fantasy



Coen Young


1988 -


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.




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

Accession number


Artist information

Coen Young

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

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