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Ashley Bickerton

  • Art
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Ashley Bickerton is like a friend who’s just come back from travelling around Asia for six months and literally won’t stop talking about it and showing you pictures down the pub. Except the pictures aren’t irritating iPhone photos of a beach he dropped some wicked acid on, it’s a whole goddamn body of fine art.

But that’s a little unfair: it’s actually only half that bad. Because before he moved to Bali to become an eco-art hippy intent on creating art that makes me wish I didn’t have eyes, Bickerton was actually pretty brilliant. Busting out of ’80s New York alongside his buddy Jeff Koons (part of what got called the Neo Geo movement), his early work was full of simple ideas about consumerism, identity and pop culture, all executed with humour, precision and a super neat aesthetic.

The ‘paintings’ from that era here jut boxily out of the walls. They’re assemblages covered in handles and sheeting, screwed in place with industrial fittings. They’re like emergency equipment from cruise ships, or massive black box recorders. One has a digital counter displaying the work’s current estimated value, another features silhouettes of toilets and the word ‘ab-strakt’, there’s even a modern update of one of his early ‘self-portraits’ through brand logos. It’s all crisp, clean and clear, covered in logos and the stench of capitalism.

Other works here are massive hulking impenetrable lifeboats, a framed cowboy outfit or Armani suit at their centre. There are bomb-proof boxes of seeds, little post-apocalyptic boats filled with magazines, containers stuffed with pens and hair. It’s art for the end of the world, a little portrait of modern life. It feels like Bickerton is a man desperate to understand his place in a world of brands and consumerism, to create a legacy for himself, to be something more than just a name or an idea. He’s creating lifeboats, storage units, defences against an apocalypse of the self. He seems paranoid, scared and totally wired.

Which makes his escape from New York understandable. He was running away from fear, pressure and failure. Bali is where he settled. Which is good for him, it really is, because Bali’s probably lovely. But it’s not so good for us. The more recent paintings and sculptures are garish, brash and loud – hyperreal and surreal depictions of drunken, stumbling tourists and topless women cradling men on scooters. There are seashells, Indonesian carvings, beach scenes, bits of sand. It’s every holiday hangover you’ve ever had, vomited right back up onto the canvas. Instead of worrying about brands and consumerism, now Bickerton is worried about ecological disaster, the impact of tourism, the value of beauty.

There’s a real conch-shell-necklace, white-dude-in-harem-pants vibe to these paintings and sculptures. Don’t get me wrong, I can see the value of the ideas, but they take a really strong gag reflex to get through. So despite the early works being so good, the show’s a bit like shit tapas: one serving of something delicious, followed by a bowl of liquid sick. Luckily, that early work really is pretty tasty.

@eddyfrankel

Written by
Eddy Frankel

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