Ken Young as Degas. Photo courtesy of Ken Young

Ken Young, educator, artist and actor, returns to the Idyllwild Community Recreation Council Speaker Series, as French impressionist Edgar Degas. Beginning in 2007, Young brought to life for Idyllwild audiences a number of great painters including Rembrandt, Picasso, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gauguin, and Diego Rivera. He takes the stage as Degas at the Rainbow Inn at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 21.
Degas in self-portrait,

Young, for 37 years an art educator in the public school system, has fashioned a second career impersonating famous artists talking about their art and careers. It began as an effort to draw his high school students into the history and lives of famous artists — a tool to have them understand and feel an artist’s point of view and personal challenges. “It was a way to grab their attention,” said Young. “I thought I had to do something dramatic.”

Young’s first classroom appearance was as Vincent Van Gogh, and the effect of showing up in costume and talking not just about art but about Van Gogh’s loneliness and isolation, touched and involved even some of his most disinterested students. At the end of Young’s first costumed in-character performance, his students stood and applauded. “I knew then I had something,” he recounted.

Young brings that “something” back to the Idyllwild Speaker Series as Edgar Degas, a brilliant and successful painter with an often-acerbic personality, who finished his life as a loner, with diminished eyesight, wandering the streets of Paris. A master draftsman, Degas became known for his stunning artistic realism, his ability to capture emotive moments in French life of the time, and for his paintings of ballet — students, professionals, rehearsals and performances.

While a young man he was advised by French neoclassicist painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, “Draw lines, young man, and still more lines, both from life and from memory, and you will become a good artist.” And though he did considerably more than that, it was his ability to reflect, almost photographically, revealing moments in the lives of ordinary people, that made him famous and commercially successful.

“He was one of the great experts on composition in painting,” said Young. “He was very much aware of how to frame a subject. There was a sense of drama and flair with what he did, with subjects seeming to moving out of the frame, a story in the process of being told. He became a great chronicler of French life.”

A wine and cheese reception at 5:30 p.m. precedes Young’s presentation. Both are free to the public.