and colleague Lily Yung,
we offer some anecdotes,
comments on her work, and
thoughts about her
Canada’s art and craft
We will always remember Lily
I met Lily in 1966 when we became classmates in the Faculty of Science at the University of Hong Kong. My first impressions of Lily were of her cheerful character, positive attitude, sense of humour, and most of all, that genuine, infectious laughter behind her signature, oversized glasses. There were neat, detailed study notes in her beautiful handwriting, always in turquoise ink. She had a preference for well-tailored dress suits (usually bright yellow). Later in life she developed a preference for oversized casual wear: perhaps a part of her transformation from scientist to artist. When we went on science field trips, she was constantly on the go; looking for specimens and writing pages and pages of notes, in turquoise of course, while most of us boys were having a good time enjoying nature or a game of mah-jong.
I only found out that Lily was a gifted artist when I met her again in Toronto, having lost contact with her for many years. We had a mini class reunion last year in Toronto, attended mostly by classmates in North America. Lily was very happy and quite emotional, seeing some classmates she hadn’t met since graduation, 40 years ago.
Remembering Lily Yung
I have had the privilege of having Lily Yung as my friend for almost all of my adult life.
I first met Lily in 1978 when she was the biological safety officer for The University of Alberta, in Edmonton. We were both studying printmaking and that was when our friendship began.
In the early 80’s Lily and I both moved to Toronto and for the next 25 years we shared much as artists and as friends. We shared a studio for almost 10 years during which I was able to see Lily’s amazing studio practice. Lily surrounded herself with unusual collections – objects and materials that were beautiful, intriguing, potentially informative or useful.
So what words would I use to describe my friend? It turns out not surprisingly to be a very long list. Creative of course, innovative, resourceful, curious, stubborn, outspoken, magnetic, dynamic, passionate, determined, fun and funny, purposeful, quirky, smart and enthusiastic, generous, strong, brave, focused and totally unique in her way of finding beauty in seemingly ordinary materials and transforming them into objects of wonder.
Lily was simply extraordinary.
What I valued in Lily as a person was her honesty and directness, as well as her joyful sharing of everyday life with her many friends. Looking back I realize how much these very traits of her character also marked her work. No matter whether she used fancy glass beads and silver wire or simple felt and plastic materials, whether she chose to employ elaborate traditional craft techniques or computer programmed laser cutting - what eventually prevailed and continues to shine in her work is her very own spirit of simplicity and joyous playfulness.
It is not uncommon to find amongst your peers, people with whom you share similar interests and values. It is however, rare to find them in such abundance in a single individual. My initial experience of Lily was seeing photographs of a series of extravagant pieces that focused on beading and referenced historical works. These were thoughtful creations that enticed the viewer with their high level of craftsmanship and design. Here was someone who understood the implication of technical proficiency as it related to the presentation of an idea.
I came to recognize Lily as an exceptional cultural contributor, not just with her work but also with her influence. As I observed her I learned that Lily was prodigiously confident in her cognitive, creative and manual abilities; perhaps this was a result of her scientific training as an immunologist or something innate. Highly energetic, she seemed to percolate with new and interesting ideas; ones you could be certain would be put into practice the next time you met her. She was likely to be encouraged by anyone who had the temerity to tell her, “It can’t be done.”
Most significantly, Lily’s contributions focused on taking personal responsibility and leadership in the craft community. Lily Yung and Anne Barros, as principles of *new* gallery, saw a need for critical writing on craft. They recognized that craft theory was a requisite for the level of credibility craftspeople aspired to. To this end and much to their credit they edited and funded the publication of “*new* views”, a pamphlet style publication that included critical essays and images of the work exhibited at *new* gallery for 17 exhibitions from 2006-2007. This encouraged and provided an outlet for aspiring craft critics and gave the artists a document that furnished context for their work. I was lucky enough to have been both the subject of one of these publications and the author of the essay for “1001 rings”. Their effort provides an exemplar and standard for independent critical writing on craft in Canada.
I continue to be inspired by Lily’s example.
Ken Vickerson RCA
It is a testament to Lily Yung that upon her death, numerous notices from individuals and organizations ricocheted around the craft, art and design communities expressing heartfelt sadness. Her influence on all these disciplines and communities was remarkably significant. She particularly made considerable contributions to contemporary Canadian jewellery and design. Her work was infused with energy. She used colour, materials, scale and complexity to complement and enhance the body and space.
She exuded creativity and vitality in all her ideas and projects. It comes as no surprise that Lily was working right up to the last possible moment. One of Lily’s admirable qualities was her drive to investigate new things. Perhaps this grew out of her scientific training – she never stopped learning or exploring fresh ways to present or interpret her art practice.
Lily was such a stalwart supporter of the greater community as well. She was always at exhibition openings with a smile and time to chat – even when she became ill. She seemed indefatigable!
Her first Rings exhibition in 2005 celebrated the influence of Dutch jeweller Onno Boekhoudt – one of the ‘greats.’ A fitting choice, as Onno and Lily are cut from the same cloth: maverick thinkers, untiring, committed artists who shaped and inspired contemporary craft practice.
Lily Yung was tenacious, fun and unabashedly expressed her opinions. Lily had genius and Lily was a presence! We have truly lost one of our greats.
Lily, you will be profoundly missed by a great many.
Melanie Egan Head of Craft, Harbourfront Centre
Lily had two qualities I most admire: an enquiring mind, and the perseverance to bring her ideas into fruition. She was both a thinker and a do-er. I met Lily through her work as a craft activist and organizer, but got to know her best as an artist, when I interviewed her for a feature article in Metalsmith Magazine in 2007. She was living in an immense loft in an industrial building, a space as unique and quirky as Lily herself. The focus of the article was her research and development of Rapid prototyping techniques for the creation of unique objects using “one-of-a-kind manufacturing.” We talked for hours about the meandering path her career as an artist had taken to bring her to that point, and I was struck by how she never let obstacles stop her from moving forward. Whatever it took to continue creating, she did it. It’s so fitting that a scholarship fund has been initiated in her name. While she may no longer be here in body, Lily’s enduring spirit will live on, enabling emerging craftspeople to follow their dreams the way she followed hers.
My friend Tess and I first met Lily in a line-up at the 1996 Toronto International Film Festival. She had on a pair of distinctive red plastic glasses and immediately struck me as a very interesting person. She exuded an enigmatic quality that was very compelling and I liked her on the spot. I found out later she was not only a craft artist, but also a past student of science, to which I could relate.
My next memory of Lily was the first time I visited her at home, at that time in the Artscape West building (where this show is now). I was awestruck by the sheer creativity of her space and her amazing collections. She had a wall display of a hundred miniature earthenware teapots that took my breath away. Everywhere I looked I saw objects (Venetian glass vases) or images (a postcard of a craft show or a lush serigraph) that delighted the eye. Even her supplies, petri dishes of colourful beads and spools of shiny wire, left me feeling inspired to make something.
Today I was looking through Lily’s website (www.lilyyung.com) and felt nostalgic clicking through all the images of her beautiful work, her beaded pendants and Egyptian-inspired wire work, the silicone “jellies” and beautiful resin prototyping bangles and rings. The scope of her work was astonishing. Of course, what I cherish most are the memories I have associated with some of those series, like her Pharaoh works. On visits to her studio she would show me her latest work in progress and demonstrate how she had to twist the wires “here, here, here and here” to get the desired bead in just the right spot. She told me of how the work took its toll on her wrists and how sometimes she had to dismantle hours of work to correct a mistake.
My most recent memories of Lily involve her 2010 Rings work. Over lunch she would let me see some of her new translucent rings and we would talk about the different manufacturers she was working with and her thoughts on what materials she wanted to use for future rings. She liked feel of rings in steel, but felt the silver versions would be too expensive. I offered to have two of the rings produced so she could see what they were like, and she agreed. The last time I had lunch with her she examined the finished products and thought they turned out beautifully. When I mentioned that my favourite ring, one I call “the zeppelin”, would shift around on my finger due to the weight of the silver, Lily dismissed my concerns saying, “Just stick a bit of wool in the band and it’ll be fine!” As far as she was concerned the ring was perfect just the way it was and it was my finger causing all the problems. Now that I think back on it, I think she was right. She had a knack for being right, and she had no qualms in telling you so.
This ring show provides an opportunity to share a few observations on Lily’s complicated relationship with “the public.” When *new*gallery, which Lily helped found, was in its infancy in the Distillery district, Lily had an exhibition where she laid out her rapid prototyping experiments from the National Research Center in London, Ontario. Gallery walls were covered with explanations of techniques, samples and possibilities. Every day, Lily patiently shared her enthusiasm for rapid prototyping, carefully explaining it to members of the curious public. Yet no matter how many times Lily explained it, the visitors all too frequently responded, “So, it’s like die cutting, right?” “Can you believe it?” she said, “they just don’t get it.”
This exhibition also had stainless steel tables with a selection of Lily’s luscious, tempting prototypes. Much as Lily liked to share her ideas and show her work, she did not like having her work touched. Especially not by a careless public with no intention of paying more than $20 for anything, a public that could drop breakable objects and leave fingerprints on stainless steel. Not surprisingly, the hum of gallery conversation was frequently broken with a rather sharp command: ”DON’T TOUCH!”
I was quickly trained. But once, forgetting this training, I touched the cold stainless steel table surface. I pulled my hand back as quickly as if I had touched a hot stove, knowing that friendship didn’t exempt anyone from the “DON’T TOUCH!” Rule.
Lily was convinced that the future of craft lay in the combination of mass production and hand finishing. Let the machine and the individual do what each did best - a combination that allowed for efficiency and experimentation and kept the small producer competitive. This combination perfectly suited Lily’s temperament: intelligent, creative, practical yet impractical, always sensitive to the qualities of her materials, always curious about the world, always taking delight in inventing new forms.
Lily Yung came to NSCAD on several occasions as an exhibitor at Anna Leonowens Gallery and as a visiting artist. We were all completely enamoured of her work, her energetic character and her dedication to the field. She generously shared her knowledge with our students and has made significant contributions to the Canadian jewellery community. Of her latest visit one of our students, Ann Pocket, said, “Her fresh approach to unconventional materials and her brave enthusiasm to embrace new technologies was and will always be – so inspiring!”
We have many fond memories of Lily and will miss her illuminating spirit tremendously.
Pamela Ritchie Professor, Jewellery Design Program / Chair, Craft Division NSCAD University
Lily Yung was a feisty woman, a creative powerhouse, and a lot of fun to be with. Her work was always inventive, probing the limits of materials, yet delightfully easy to wear. In person she was like that too: the down-to-earth manner didn’t always prepare you for the fiercely intelligent, passionate Lily. Her activism in promoting excellent work and intelligent critical writing has been a huge gift to our community of artists.
Thank you for that, Lily, but most of all thank you for the beautiful work and for the inspiration of your vivid spirit.
Susan Warner Keene
About Lily and *new*
This gallery was her vision.
When the Distillery District was still a dream, Lily convinced a group of seven of us that we could work collectively and collaboratively to create a space that would showcase the best and most innovative in contemporary fine craft. We all felt that there was little opportunity to show innovative work in the Toronto region but we knew the talent was out there. This gallery would offer a rental venue that operated at cost, providing the opportunity for artist/designers who were not affiliated with a gallery to show their work and test their ideas in a professional gallery.
Lily did not work within boundaries and her vision was broad. We were all in new territory and in a place we did not know; none of us had ever run a gallery before. Oh those monthly gallery meetings: never dull but always engaging and lively. So it was in 2003 that we opened our door in the Case Goods Building, Distillery District, and moved to our present location on Queen Street West in early 2007.
Working with Lily has been an experience that we all treasure. She was always a clear thinker and able to analyze any set of circumstances. She was usually right. She did not take the easy road. Her standards were always high and exacting. She demanded the same of all of the members of the gallery.
To say she will be missed is an understatement. The levels of her engagement with her work and life were an inspiration to us all.
Comments contributed from founding members:
Beth Alber —– Melinda Mayhall —– Anne Barros
Click Pages links on right to see show, artist and venue info→