White lines, black marks
Alexander Kennedy goes back to the 80s in the company of Glasgow-based artist Alex Pollard
If the 70s were the era that fashion forgot, the 80s were the decade that fashion had a gushing aneurism. There was something for everyone, with David Bowie managing to embrace almost every genre and fashion. Thankfully he lost it in the 90s and we got a break from the merciless bombardment of ‘looks’. But in his new exhibition at Talbot Rice, Glasgow-based artist Alex Pollard has revisited the role of Pierrot (the sad, asexual clown mourning for lost love) that Bowie revived in the ‘Ashes to Ashes’ video. ‘He reinvented the Pierrot as a way of looking back and laying to rest his previous characters’, says Pollard. ‘I find many of the ideas in the 80s New Romantic scene interesting - its links with artifice, masks and ambiguity being central.’ The whole slapped-up history of the New Romantic movement (characterized by zig-zagging eyeliner and perfectly diagonal gashes of scarlet rouge bruising cheekbones), has come back to haunt us in the new sculptures and drawings that he has been working on over the last year. The work continues the theme of how mocked-up ‘man-made’ materials and the media available to artists can be mixed together in a make-up bag, on an artist’s palette or pulled out from the dirty corner of a studio to create art objects.
‘I wanted to introduce something else into the work to move away from working solely with studio materials.’ says Pollard. ‘I had been working for a while with a few motifs and felt that it was important to throw a spanner into the works in order to move the work forward.’ Previous sculptural and installation works (exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2005, then later in Scotland) were created out of perfect copies of geometrical tools, rulers reconstructed to form paired-down models of dinosaurs and gladiatorial stick men made out of broken faux pencils. These manufactured fragments seemed to critique the idea of artistic genius, the myth of the expressive line (or black marks) being dragged from out of the artist’s tortured soul.
The new work takes this further, with the accompanying information describing the artist as ‘clowning about in the studio’. When we think of the artist as a clown, suddenly the capriciousness of creativity and the silly quirks of our subjectivity become very serious. This lightness of being is the closest we may get to understanding what it is that makes people whole, workable subjects. The romance and imagination involved in the New Romantic movement can also be seen as central to this project, with make-up as masks acting like skin-thin veils over the abyss beneath, coloured screens that fetishises the absent sublime.
‘I was interested in pushing the fantastical side of my work, moving it further away from realism,’ continues Pollard. ‘A piece of work in the show which perhaps illustrates this concern is a portrait of a Romo painted almost in the style of Arcimboldo. His face is made up of distorted cosmetics rendered in oil paint. I feel that the fantastical and imaginative strands of my practice are what I’m trying to explore here and hopefully do something interesting with the work which takes it beyond merely being ‘about’ New Romanticism.’
Alex Pollard: Black Marks, Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh, until Sat 2 Jun.