Lehmann Maupin & O’Flaherty’s Survey The Fluid Art of Ashley Bickerton – ARTnews.com
Late last year, Ashley Bickerton revealed on Instagram that he had been diagnosed with ALS, the wasting motor neurone disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which left the artist in a wheelchair. at his home and studio on the island of Bali in Indonesia. . For those who have followed the atypical career of the neo-geo artist, the news adds an unexpected emotional charge to the recent works presented in “Marines à la fin de l’histoire” at Lehmann Maupin, and to certain earlier pieces presented at O ‘Flaherty, both in New York. Born in Barbados, raised in Hawaii and along the California coast, and embraced in New York during his time here in the 1980s, Bickerton left town for good in 1993, and since then he has used the visual vocabulary of an islander, centered on the sea. . His recent sculptures and wall reliefs, ostensibly meditations on the fragility of the oceans, now suggest in personal as well as metaphorical terms a quest for human survival.
Among these, two large sculptures, Mangrove Footprints 1 (2021) and Floating Family Footprints (Flow Tide) 1 (2022), imaginative life rafts made of resin, fiberglass and steel in sandy tones, leaning against the wall as if ready for use in an emergency when sea level mounted. The surfaces of the bridges appear to bear traces of bare feet in the sand. It is not surprising to learn that Floating Family Footprints (Flow Tide) 1 is the first work produced by the artist after his diagnosis, as it evokes a classic and romantic image of companionship and mobility. The large object (over five feet tall and seven feet wide) evokes a family walk on the beach, containing the parallel footprints of the artist, his wife and their daughter embedded in layers of transparent resin, with a wavy surface and a shimmering sheen. , apparently encapsulating a shallow wave that has just washed over the surface. But with their dull brown hues and militaristic steel components, the life rafts could also conjure up a much more serious and less personal image of refugees trying to cross the sea to a better life.
A similar divide of emotions, alternately playful and tragic, seems to guide the “Vector” series of wall reliefs, whose River vector: white) and River Vector: Great White (both 2022). Each of these window-like constructions, reminiscent of a shallow aquarium, features pieces of colored plastic and other debris picked up from the beach, attached to a mirrored panel set behind glass and etched with delicate, sinuous lines alluding ocean currents or streams. In Bickerton’s idiosyncratic fashion, the colorful scrap pieces enliven the compositions in playful sweeps and swirls like water confetti or artificial fish.
Also on display are various additions to Bickerton’s “Ocean Chunk” series of wall-hung, freestanding blocky geometric shapes in blue resin encrusted with what appear to be rocks, pieces of coral, or detritus. Formally, these stripped forms suggest a rather irreverent homage to minimalism, and in particular to the work of Donald Judd, which Bickerton has approached throughout his career. Surfaces and content are more textured and complex; the works evoke oceanographic specimens that one might find on display in a natural history museum. They also look like the ocean seen from an airplane or gridded on a map. Some are almost cubic in shape, with surface textures suggesting water ripples and refraction of sunlight and slight changes in resin hues indicating variations in sea depth. works seem to present placid views of the ocean, a glow of mortality lingers. Continuing the subtle elegiac tone, a six-foot-high freestanding work, 0°36’06.2″N, 131°09’41.8″E 1 (2022), looks like a coffin (as noted by the artist in the same Instagram post).
For a number of works in the “Ocean Chunk” series, Bickerton entangles or encases the resin blocks in elaborate props, treating the seemingly ossified ocean chunks as ritual or talismanic objects. Suspended piece of ocean (to hang on cliffs, to cross ravines, and to hang from the forest canopy) 1 (2022), for example, presents a block set like a jewel in stainless steel bars. The set is suspended from the ceiling and entangled in climbing gear, including ropes adorned with small flags of various nations. The work makes explicit the exhibition’s allusions to migration, border crossing and confinement.
Earlier works on display at O’Flaherty’s include several examples from Bickerton’s “Blue Man” series of large photos taken in elaborate setups in his studio, edited and further embellished with paint, including neon bar and Night Red Scooter (both 2010-11). The pieces have thick, elaborately hand-carved and stained wooden frames (made with the help of local artisans) with the artist’s name inlaid into the surface. The images of grotesque pairs and groups of figures, sort of stereotypes with garish skin tones, contradict an idealized view of tropical island life – certainly Gauguin’s images of Tahiti, for example. Instead, Bickerton offers scathing views on Western tourists, hinting at the industry’s vulgarity in Bali and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. In Night Red Scooter, a portly blue male figure wearing only a showy sarong and campy sunglasses – a rather archetypal character who reappears in a number of works – rides a moped as two naked young women cling to his waist for the life, the trio speeding up something sordid, neon-lit street. Yet the implications are, as always, ambiguous, as the images suggest the ruin of what would otherwise be an island paradise – to which the artist seems to lay claim via his prominent signatures.
The unbridled excess of these pieces, not to mention the acerbic humor, contrasts with the cool demeanor and relative formal austerity of the neo-geo works that established Bickerton’s career in the 1980s, and with the relatively subdued imagery and the cerebral compositions of his latest works. . Bickerton landed somewhere in the middle, neither totally formal nor totally critical, just on the verge of unease.