By Meg Haskell
If you live, work, shop or dine in the Bangor area, you have almost certainly encountered the quirky, colorful and kaleidoscopic paintings of Diana Young. And, since she often depicts local street scenes and cityscapes, you’ve likely recognized a block of downtown buildings, an in-town park or neighborhood.
Young’s lively artistic vision is easy to enjoy, wherever you may come across it. That’s in part because she finds her inspiration in familiar sites and landmarks, often returning again and again to paint the same scene from a different perspective, in changing seasons, with different light.
“I used to love going up to the top floor of the parking garage,” she said. “The view across the river to Brewer is very fine.” Other favorite subjects have included her West Side neighborhood – the historic Hilltop House daycare and school, for example, or the corner market, or the long view down Court Street toward the former Penobscot County Courthouse.
Often, it’s the view from her attic studio that attracts her palette.
“I love getting up high to paint,” Young said.
Some of her newer pieces were featured in a recent exhibit at the Rock and Art Shop on Central Street. And she is also gratified to have sold several large canvases to Saint Joseph Healthcare in Bangor for inclusion in its rotating collection of local art, to be hung in patient rooms, waiting areas and other sites.
“People say it makes them feel good,” she said. She’s pleased to think her artwork may promote healing and happiness to those in need.
The urge to draw and paint has been a driving force for as long as she can remember.
“It was always there,” she said. “I started drawing the minute I could hold a pencil.”
When she was a child growing up in New Haven, Connecticut, her parents never complained about the long hours she spent in her room, contentedly listening to the radio and drawing. In elementary school, she and a friend devised a series of intricate, illustrated maps of their neighborhood. Later, when she was discouraged by her high school’s stultifying art program, her parents enrolled her in a private, free-wheeling Saturday morning class.
“It was wonderful, like play,” she recalled. “They gave us clay, paint, mobiles, sculpture, beads, everything you could think of.”
But drawing and painting remained her passion.
When she was a junior in high school, a family friend suggested she visit the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
“I had never even heard of RISD,” Young said, but she applied and was accepted. Initially, she heeded her mother’s advice and majored in illustration, which offered a clear path to employment.
“She hoped it would give me something to fall back on in case I didn’t find a good husband to support me,” Young said, laughing. “But illustration was boring. I didn’t want to illustrate other people’s ideas, and I was too snooty to do advertising.”
So in her junior year, she switched her major to painting and was much happier.
That happiness was compounded by meeting her future husband, Jim, who was studying textile chemistry at RISD. They married when Diana was a senior.
But, despite so many things falling into place, the period that followed was marked by sadness and frustration. “We had three children in six years. Having babies and raising them took the wind out of my sails for a long time,” Young said.
She struggled against debilitating postpartum depression. Even after her hormones stabilized, dark moods dogged her for years, muting and distorting her artistic impulses. “I didn’t do much painting at all during those years, and when I did it was all unhappy stuff from inside my own head,” she said.
When Jim accepted a teaching position in Biddeford, things started looking up.
“The kids were older, for one thing,” Young said. “And it was beautiful – our house was just a block away from the Atlantic Ocean. It was like going to heaven, in a way.”
But as her creativity slowly reasserted itself, it was not the ocean and its linear horizons that drew her. “I found that if I drove into town, I could paint what I wanted to paint,” she said – the blocky brick buildings of Biddeford’s industrial downtown.
Now 85, Young has lived in Bangor since 1973, when Jim’s work brought the family to the Queen City.
“I fell in love with Bangor,” she said. “It has a gorgeous geography, with railroads and streets not in a grid but running every which way, and it’s a river town.”
The city has inspired her to create countless paintings and developed her signature style – large canvases, often painted from a rooftop perspective, big jumbled blocks of vibrating color arranged in pleasantly disorienting configurations. Human figures, if they’re present, are in constant motion.
In 1988, she purchased a small, banged-up home in Eastport to use as a seasonal studio. Maine’s most easterly city has provided different vistas to paint, different venues in which to show and sell her work and a cadre of artist friends.
“My work now is very happy, and it didn’t used to be,” Young said. “My 60s and 70s have been my very best years.”
Even now, after Jim’s recent death and during this difficult pandemic year, she continues to paint regularly.
“Not as much as I used to,” she admitted, but at least once a week a friend joins her in her attic studio in Bangor, masked and distanced, for a few hours of work.
Now, keep your eyes peeled for Diana Young’s joyful, inviting paintings. You’ll know them when you see them.