LONDON.- Newport Street Gallery
is presenting a solo exhibition of work by American artist Ashley Bickerton (b.1959), which runs until 20th August 2017. The survey spans more than three decades of Bickertons career and features 51 works, including a significant display of new and previously unexhibited pieces. Titled Ornamental Hysteria, this is his first UK show since 2009.
Bickerton moved to New York in 1982 and after working as a painting assistant to Jack Goldstein, he emerged as a key figure on the newly exploding East Village art scene. Within the context of the culture of commodification sweeping America he rose to prominence as part of an amorphous movement that was branded Neo-Geometric Conceptualism. Alongside artists such as Haim Steinbach and Jeff Koons, Bickerton endeavoured to reframe the practice of art production in response to the new, seductive mechanisms of desire at work in society.
Bickerton abandoned New York in 1993, eventually settling in Bali, where he still lives and works. Whilst a number of his themes prevailed, the materiality of his work shifted dramatically after this self-imposed exile from the urban environment.
Both in materiality and content, Bickertons work resists categorisation. On the diversity of his mediums photocollage, appropriated image, digital image, paint and sculpture he states: Painting is far too cartoony and lacks the backbone of factuality; photography is too clinical and incapable of loony launches into the ether; and sculpture can be just downright presumptuous. [
] Only in their combination do I find comfort.
Bickertons conceptual commitment to intersectionality extends to his subject matter; his audacious and technically complex assemblages are predicated on themes of opposition and duality, for example representation and reality, creativity and commodity, nature and artifice, idyll and apocalypse. This is evident in his earlier work on display in gallery 1, which offers a sardonic critique of contemporary consumer culture and the commodification of the art object via steel and aluminium wall-mounted Culturescapes from the Logo and NonWord Word series. Galleries 3 and 4 are dominated by Bickertons Sea and Landscapes - overblown and incongruous, they contain ephemera from the anthroposphere in the simulated shells of transportation devices. In part, these truly contemporary landscapes might be read as a dystopian view of the devastating impact of man on the ecosphere.
Throughout his career, Bickerton has challenged the relevancy of traditional art-historical tropes. His self-portraits similarly parody the mythological figure of the artist, who is represented in the guise of the brands he chooses to endorse in Tormented Self-Portrait: Susie at Arles (25 Years) (2014) and as a five-bodied, technicoloured serpent in the monumental 5 Snake Heads (2009), on display in Newport Streets double-height gallery 2.
Bickertons practice evolved in the late 90s to incorporate digital image and photography. In portraits such as Smiling Woman (2009), models (often family members and friends) are heavily made-up and photographed, then distorted in Photoshop before the image is printed on canvas and re-painted. These paintings are amongst Bickertons most overtly satirical, presenting lurid, constructed visions of life on a generic Pacific / Caribbean island.
The last gallery features a display of Bickertons new work, including Double Manta II (White) (2017), a more elegiac counterpart to the resin sharks, obfuscated by materials and accoutrements, on display in gallery 2. Unusually for an artist whose work shifted so dramatically after his move to Bali, Bickerton has revisited one of his most important early series Wall-Wall for this exhibition. The Wall-Wall paintings feature painted surfaces interrupted by irregular fibreglass protrusions, simulating rocks. Conceived in 1986, Bickerton cites their central importance to his understanding of both the act and object of painting: how it functions and creates meaning in a world oversaturated with imagery. In essence, he explains, they are: something that fills a space on a wall with colour that affects meaning a surrogate wall so youre not looking at the blankness.
Hirst met Bickerton in New York in the late 1980s and has been collecting his work in earnest for over a decade.
Bickertons work has featured in exhibitions in museums around the world, including the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2012); Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2012); Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2011); New Museum, New York (2010); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2010); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2006), among others. He has also been included in prominent international biennales, among them the 9th Biennale of Sydney, Australia (1992); the 44th Venice Biennale (1990); and the 1989 Whitney Biennial. His work is included in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; and the Tate, London among others.
The artist lives and works in Bali, Indonesia.