Susan mansfield, 'Lifted from obscurity' (The Scotsman, 14/11/2010)
PICASSO is alleged to have said: “Good artists borrow, great artists steal,” though a similar statement has been attributed to TS Eliot, Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde, implying that the idea itself has been well “borrowed” (or perhaps “stolen”). The pra ADVERTISEMENT ctice continues in art today, but these days they call it “appropriation”.
A key component of postmodernism is the appropriation of existing material - text, images, logos and so on, and placing it in another context. In theory, this then casts light both on itself and its new environment. In practice, it can make art turn inwards, image-making which is about image-making, increasingly dependent on an ever more obscure set of reference points.
In this new body of work, Alex Pollard is “appropriating” the imagery and iconography of the brief Romo movement in 1990s pop music. If you were looking the other way, you might have missed it: bands like Dex Dexter, Plastic Fantastic, Hollywood and Orlando trying to put a 90s spin on the New Romantics in a music scene dominated by guitar bands. It was the wrong style at the wrong time and didn’t catch on.
But this is part of Pollard’s point. Pop artists like Andy Warhol appropriated imagery which was common currency, from a tin of Campbell’s soup to the face of Marilyn Monroe. What happens, Pollard seems to ask, when the material appropriated is marginal at best, at worst embarrassingly uncool?
It does run the risk of making the viewer feel that they are looking at paintings they don’t understand about something they don’t remember. But Pollard’s track record suggests more than this. He is an immensely versatile artist, drawing on a broad base of ideas and references, and he is both prolific and rigorous in his attention to detail. In 2005, for the Venice Biennale, he was making dinosaurs out of rulers. Two years later, at the Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh, he was smudging make-up on walls and casting medals in bronze. Another two years on, he was making shoes and painting Robin Hood as if seen through a distorting mirror.
This work is strikingly different again: band logos and customised baseball boots in meticulous silkscreen print, over-painted with violent daubs of colour and crude shapes. The wall-based works are developed into an installation with more custom-made shoes, flat-pack cardboard boxes and plastic CD spinners (which, like Romo, are swiftly passing out of fashion as the download takes over).
He doesn’t give us many clues about how to read this work, perhaps not as many as we need given the obscurity of the source material. But, even if it is less accessible than some of his other forays, this is still a substantial and highly realised bo ADVERTISEMENT dy of work.
Jacob Kerray, one of four recent graduates chosen under the New Work Scotland Programme (the other two will show next month) also likes to appropriate images and styles. Kerray, who graduated from Glasgow School of Art in June, creates postmodern pastiches on portraiture, mixing elements of traditional portraits and historic costumes with modern sport and pop culture references: in this show, one might say, Velazquez meets Star Trek villain Khan Noonien Singh, with added footballers.
There’s a daring absurdity to all this you can’t help enjoying: a riff on Picasso, a close-up of Gary Lineker’s right quadricep, a still-life which includes the World Cup, in a gallery hung salon-style. But Kerray’s attention to detail and surprising subtlety - a poignant facial expression, some nicely worked colour - suggest that he is also very serious about what he does.
Shelly Nadashi, a 2009 graduate of Glasgow School of Art’s MFA course, makes work which is rooted in performance. Her works for the Collective include two films and additional objects associated with performance: two evocative puppet heads, a scale model of a theatre. The film Ambush in Wedding juxtaposes a narrative about a girl’s relationship with a man she meets in Berlin with footage which at times echoes the storyline, at times goes it own way. Noam is a filmed conversation about how different art forms move us, which sounds self-referential but escapes this cliché simply because it is so interesting.
Raydale Dower is another emerging artist whose work is closely associated with performance: he was one of those behind Lowsalt’s wonderful promenade adaptation of The Secret Agent for Glasgow International in 2008, and Le Drapeau Noir cabaret at this year’s festival, and plays in the band Uncle John & Whitelock.
The first thing to strike the viewer in his first solo show at Stirling’s Changing Room Gallery is sound: the insistent tick of three metronomes (a nod to Hungarian avant-gardist Ligeti who once scored a symphony for 100), and random recorded sounds from the next room, from humming interference to plinking piano keys, to earthy repeating rhythms.
The visual works speak of music too, a sunburst of piano keys adorning a wall collaged with newspaper photographs - famous faces, news events, stills from movies: Harrison Ford, Audrey Hepburn, Ghandi, Tracey Emin, Mickey Mouse, a mushroom cloud, the miners’ strike. All appear random, yet have been carefully compiled with one eye on aesthetics, the other on the surreal. In the second room, a blackened violin lies in the fireplace like a ravished ghost.
These elements come together to create a powerful atmosphere.
Even if the various sound engines are silent, there is a sense that the performance has just ended, or could begin at any moment. The fragments of musical instruments still feel connected to the possibility of music. Dower seems to have an instinctive grasp of how to work with the viewer’s imagination, we saw as much with The Secret Agent. It will be well worth seeing what he does with it next.