After going to Newspeak I can see what he means. I wouldn't call it 'tat' though, maybe bric-a- brac, pick 'n' mix? But that’s not a bad thing. Charles Derwent in The Independent, describes Newspeak as ‘the content of someone’s attic’. Defined simply as ‘British Art Now’, even with a guidebook its difficult to trace any universal themes that appear in work from artists including Hurvin Anderson, Scott King, Phoebe Unwin and Fergal Stapleton.
So is there such thing that characterises British art now? If there is, I didn't find it here. Nevertheless, the exhibition successfully showcased the individual talents of its unknown artists.
Something familiar yet detached
Born to Jamaican parents in Birmingham, Anderson takes us back to memories of 1950s Britain through the eyes of immigrants, with hazy meditative pieces like Peter’s Sitters 3 and Untitled (Beach Shore). In Peter’s Sitter 3, a customer is depicted, hunched in the barber’s chair. A contrast is created between the spaciousness of the barber room in which he is seated, reminiscent of a natural landscape, with its deep blues, and his reflective self, lost in interiority and trapped in memory. This can also be traced in the brushwork used to create the piece; at some points it is fluid and vague, suggestive of memories distorted by imagination but it is also used to construct the tight geometric pattern of the customer’s gown.
Anderson explores the psychological state of the immigrant or post colonial subject, new to Britain yet trying to find vestiges of the dream they had of the ‘motherland’ Britain when they were in their original homes. In Anderson’s work the familiar seems surreal, dreamlike and detached, evoking Sigmund Freud’s ideas on the ‘the uncanny’, where the uncanny is produced by something that seems familiar yet simultaneously alien.
In Untitled (Beach Shore) this uncanny feeling is effectively created through a hazy, eerie landscape, which is actually a suburban street. Shades of black are layered onto each other creating depth and an almost foggy, misty atmosphere, where trees and civilisation are hard to discern. The only things that are really finite are the angular lines of the fence, providing some certainty and structure to the piece.
Turning CHE into CHER
King subverts Jim Fitzpatrick’s ubiquitous print of Che Guevara, supplementing another revolutionary, the gay icon Cher. However, this is not a radical piece. If anything it says a lot about consumerism today, where the meaning of Guevara’s original picture has been lost behind the endless mass replication of his image onto wallets (which I sadly owned), shotglasses (these too), t-shirts (got this too), stickers, bed spreads to name but a few. King’s Pink Cher is like a mutated Frankenstein of Che, with her large image towering majestically in the gallery much like a Communist leader, except this times she's flanked with nauseating pink, rather than the working masses.
Turning religion into a commodity
Darbyshire pokes fun at the world of interior decorating through his piece Untitled Shelves. On these shelves we find all sorts of ornamental type objects, but also a Buddha figure and Christ figure, all glossed with CMYK colour schemes. The harsh fluorescent coatings on religious emblems turns these revered, spiritual emblems into exchangeable commodities, undermining the sacredness of religion. Darbyshire says ‘We are what we buy and we use our belongings to project a desired image of ourselves.’
Restless urban landscape
One of the highlights of the exhibition has to be John Wynne’s, Untitled, composed of 300 speakers. There’s a definitely build up to it as you make your way to the final gallery, with the sounds of the speakers beckoning you along the exhibition. Using 300 speakers, a pianola, a vacuum cleaner as well as a hard disc recorder, an aural and visual towering city landscape is constructed by these speakers. The combination of both sight and sound results in an eerie, imposing landscape and soundscape that dwarfs you as enter the gallery. As you weave in and out of the speakers, you get a real sense of a restless urban landscape, which possesses a frenetic kind of energy. The speakers seem mobile and ready to escape, like denizens of a city or the many parasites that live amongst them.
Part One of Newspeak: British Art Now runs until 17th October 2010 at the Saatchi Gallery.