Welcome to the maverick life of artist Ryan Young. Since age 14, almost 40 years past, Young has labored long hours as a dockworker for the Steamship Authority in Woods Hole. His long workdays are followed by whatever time he can grab—perhaps an hour or two—to work on his lilting watercolors. “I guess you could call me a blue-collar painter,” Young says. “There’s not enough hours in the day.”
The peaceful spirit in Young’s watercolors—scenes of the Cape and Islands in endearing detail—is as counter as it could be to his working style. Dock work is the medicine he must swallow; art is the tonic.
Almost all his paintings depict a classic Cape Cod element: a road winding to the beach, a pair of swans on a lily pond, dories tied up at a dock. Ebb Tide; Little Sippewissett, centered on a meandering tidal river, lined with eelgrass and prints from a visitor, has all the majestic depth of nature itself. Amycita depicts a sweet little dory tied up at Eel Pond in Woods Hole.
The Falmouth resident felt the urge to paint as a small child and by age 12 or 13 was selling pieces. It was totally unplanned. “I was around the water a lot, loved to draw, and fell into painting,” Young says. Then, he adds, “somebody noticed and stuck me in a decent art class.” As a high-schooler, he took lessons from Falmouth artist Joe Downs.
“He was a watercolorist and kicked me in that direction,” Young says. Jan Collins Selman, who hangs his work in her Main Street gallery in Falmouth, has been impressed by Young for decades. “I met him when he was 14,” she says. “I loved his work even then.”
After high school, Young studied at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where he fell in with a group of Italian art teachers and thrived. He married his childhood sweetheart, Frances, and life rolled out in its busy way: establishing a home, raising children, working to send them to college. Painting became a passion that he refused to give up. Today Young shoots photos and then, in the studio, places them on a computer monitor to paint. He also builds walnut furniture in Queen Anne and Chippendale style, inspired by the many afternoons he spent as a boy admiring the furniture at his grandmother’s house
He still thrives on his artwork and nurses a yen to paint full time. “This painting thing is a double-edged sword,” Young says. “It’s a delicate balance, painting and going to work. Painting is still a passion.”
Ryan Young’s work may be seen at Jan Collins Selman at 317 Main Street in Falmouth (jancollinsselman.com) and at Watershed Gallery in Kingman Yacht Center, located at 1 Shipyard Lane in Cataumet.