TJ Boulting opens 'Maisie Cousins: Walking Back to Happiness' solo exhibition
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TJ Boulting opens 'Maisie Cousins: Walking Back to Happiness' solo exhibition
Title unknown from the exhibition 'Maisie Cousins: Walking Back to Happiness' solo exhibition.

LONDON.- TJ Boulting announced the second solo show by Maisie Cousins. Walking Back To Happiness, exhibition dates 10 May - 17 June 2023, is a combination of her close-up and visceral photography with a new venture in AI and installation, that delves into the artist’s obsessive search for reliving childhood memories.

Cousins is known for her sensual imagery that often repels as much as it attracts, with a riot of the bodily, flowers, insects, food and rubbish all seen in a cacophony of bright colours and often oozing textures. Her early work began as a view onto a macro world shot from her teenage bedroom or the kitchen table, but always finding an irreverent beauty in the curious wastelands of life’s crevices. This new work sees her return to the confines of the domestic as she looks after her young daughter at home in the seaside town of St Leonards. Surrounded by childhood objects and away from the constant sensory stimulation of London she had in her twenties, the images have a nostalgia for the past and the British seaside – chips and ketchup on coloured carpet, ice cream on pink shag pile, bright and tacky plastic toys, sweeties and buttons. All entwined with her return to the creatively restricted environment of home. In the midst of the distorted myriad of childish objects in her large and alluring close-up, bright colours and textures, we also have one of her daughter’s messy, ice-cream covered face. A constant presence, it also hints at the almost collaborative nature of these new works. Being isolated at home by the sea has also fuelled her online obsession with finding childhood objects that trigger the hit of nostalgic endorphins – Tudor crisp packets, old board games, junk shop treasure. She incorporates them in her work as bold graphic layers, some printed on acrylic, like a love letter to the 1970s childhood she never had.

Her search for a lost childhood then delves deeper and more obsessively with a second series of works that harness AI. Family videos of Cousins as a young girl with her granddad visiting her favourite theme park Blobbyland were destroyed by accident when she abandoned them at art college. With neither him or videos of him now in existence, Cousins was prompted to use AI to try and retrieve memories of a precious time and place since lost.

Walking Back To Happiness by Helen Shapiro was the song that he used to play in the car every time they went to visit the amusement parks together. The AI scenes generated by Cousins tap into the British holiday camp world inhabited with its own unique folklore, comical and colourful characters that could only exist in this hybrid world of real and make believe. Photographic references are John Hinde and Martin Parr, with their saturated bright colours and seaside postcard scenes. They are slightly mad and humorous, a bizarre but revealing insight into the creative triggers of the artist.

Cousins has previously used collage in her work, and this use of AI similarly is a way to harness existing imagery into the surreal and psychological, albeit with a more seamless and smooth transition that blurs reality from fantasy. The improvisation of chance juxtapositions of real images mirrors the way she worked with collage, and the roles of the unconscious within the creative process similarly speaks to surrealism. These AI works present an opportunity to explore her obsession for the euphoric hit she craves, and are a tool to help her achieve it. The process of her AI searches also became somewhat addictive, the uncanny imagery created tapped in to both her need for a hit of the nostalgic, as well of that of the gambler.

From the hundreds generated, 19 have been selected. To bring AI into the real world the works are small, printed like glossy family photos, stuck down with brightly coloured corners in shiny red frames, the hand-made touch reminiscent of an old photo album. To elevate AI even further into the realms of the physical world, Cousins has created life-size sculptural recreations of two of the characters that appear in the images – a headless blue lobster and a smiley cartoon celery. In the background plays found karaoke versions of Walking Back To Happiness on repeat. Each one sung with the heartfelt opening line: ‘Funny, but it’s true….’ Something very apt in terms of Cousin’s AI images made real, a make-believe conduit conjuring up the nostalgic hit she is craving and the intangible memories of the past.​

In anticipation of the fair, on Tuesday 25 April Photo London presented an online talk between Maisie, arts writer Charlotte Jansen and Director of TJ Boulting Hannah Watson, where they discussed her new body of work, making art whilst being a parent, and amongst other things the timely role of AI in art and photography today. ​

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