Cocaine wraps are passed around like magic bundles of confidence dust, bestowing ill-begotten boldness and conversational stamina on people with money to burn. In the hands of former Young British Artist Mat Collishaw, these packets have been unfolded, their illicit contents discarded, before being enlarged as absurdly proportioned, hyper-realist paintings.
The first seven are blank squares of unwrapped paper, full of abstract dips and bumps seeming to pop out of the flat canvas like textured reliefs. They’re also vast, most over two metres tall, with stark protruding shapes that ripple and crinkle like an aerial view of snow-dusted alps.
But these are the relatively subtle moments of calm before the storm of monumental cocaine-flecked adverts that follows. In these giant publicity images, cocaine crystals become powdery money shots on a girl’s face, over a high-heeled shoe, or across tussled hair. They are impressively painted and impeccable in detail, but their tittering naughtiness is hugely grating.
Collishaw is clearly commenting on the failures of society and on how deeply we’ve fallen into hedonism and bank-fuelled greed, but he’s doing so by making art objects that sell for tens of thousands. This is meant to be about excess, but it is, in the most hypocritical way possible, itself excessive.
If you could divorce the idea from its representation – remove the concept from the imagery – these would be relatively pretty, adequately realised paintings. But you can’t. In reality this is shallow, vacuous trophy art masquerading as irony-soaked commentary on contemporary society.