Although the two vocations don’t seem to be a natural mix with the avocation, Freddy Lee Young of Gray wouldn’t have it any other way. Young, who signs his paintings "FLY," has been working with paints and "mixing mud" since his mother and grandmother opened up the world of art to him as a child growing up in northern Texas. Forty years later, FLY’s work has been used several times in fundraising campaigns for the United Way of Washington County. His work features childhood memories and places he has grown to love since moving to East Tennessee in 1999.
"My mother painted and so did my grandmother," said Young, sitting on a houseboat on a cool Friday August night. He was preparing for an all-night fishing tournament. "Painting was a hobby for them and I loved to watch them do it. From the first time I remember anyone asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was always artist."
But, as any artist knows, it takes drive, hard work, talent and luck to make it in the art world. That all has to be balanced with making a living. Thus, Young does a lot of things to pay the bills and paints as much as he can.
"I buy canvas by the rolls," he said. "I used to go to yard and garage sales to buy old paintings that I’d paint over. I’ve never had a lesson. Just what Mom and Grandmother showed me."
But having these two important women show him the ropes was enough. He says it all started innocently. He was watching his mother paint people. She was getting the flesh tones of their skin. He asked how she did that.
"She told me that you mixed lime green and
alizarin crimson. I didn’t see how that would make the color of skin. So I asked her to show me how," Young said. "I’ve been fascinated with mixing colors ever since."
Over the four decades he’s worked his art, he has utilized many different formats.
"I started in watercolors," he said. "I would sketch something and then paint over it. But I’ve always been fascinated with the mixing of colors and the way colors come together to form a picture. I found oils and just started painting what I saw straight without drawing it first. It seemed to make more sense, cut out that extra step."
His work is never a labor. Some of his favorite paintings are ones he did of his childhood memories. One titled "White Sands" came from a trip he took to White Sands missile range in New Mexico with his grandparents.
"I remember that because the sand was so white it looked like snow," Young said. "My grandfather slammed on the brakes because the road looked like it was covered in ice."
Another favorite painting is called "Pirates Cove," and makes Young smile. "I wish I could be there now," he said.
FLY’s work now isn’t focused on faraway places. He has donated paintings to the United Way the last two years. One was of Rocky Mount for the 2012 campaign and the other of the Mary B. Martin Storytelling Center in 2011.
"We’ve been long-time supporters of the United Way," he said. "It’s a great cause."
Though he loves teaching people fishing and being their guide, he admits that sometimes his mind wanders to his "other" love.
"There are lots of days I think I could just float down this river and paint," he said. "And if I have a canvas with me, I’m likely to do just that."
He’s currently working on a painting called "A Soldier’s Home" of the Mountain Home Veteran’s Hospital. Now known as Building 34, it was built in 1902 as a mess hall and is the future home of the Museum at Mountain Home. The building’s most notable feature is its elaborate bell tower.
Young’s signature started out just being his initials, but it has turned into a nickname and moniker. He was a long-time commercial fisherman in Texas before moving to the region. Still, some may think it might seem somewhat of a stretch to link fishing and painting. Young disagrees with a slow smile and slower drawl.
"They’re both really about the delivery," he said, "and a soft presentation."