British artist Mat Collishaw places his work in systems of fluctuation, layering meanings and interpretations until the weight of the work’s collected implications collapses in on itself. In his most recent show at London’s Blain|Southern, the artist has continued in this tradition, offering a collection of large-scale oil paints that negotiate between hedonistic excess, abstract figuration and cultural subterfuge.
Titled This is Not an Exit, Collishaw’s latest show adapts the imagery of high-gloss fashion magazines, projecting their consumer-driven narratives back out from the canvas. However, a closer examination of the works reveals deeper levels of abstraction that send the works into new realms of existence. Each work bears crisp lines of folding, as if the pages have been continually folded and refolded from their original, flat form. The models and figures of the original ads have also been warped, disassociated from familiar bodily forms. In one work, human hair obscures all but the faintest traces of skin or defining features, failing to achieve a continuation of form over fold lines. It is as if the folding of the original page has removed much of the original image’s meaning, leaving only a parody of the glorified human form.
This reading is further darkened by the deeper meanings of the folds in the works. Collishaw seeks to recreate the simple folded paper utilized by drug dealers as a carrying pouch for cocaine and other powdered drugs. True to form, many of the paintings on view bear faint traces of white powder, as if they had been plucked directly from the pocket of a recent buyer. As these images and symbols coalesce, a more sinister, bacchanalian portrait emerges: decadence layered over desire, and laced with the economic implications of both the illicit drug trade and the relentless cannibalization of the fashion world. Collishaw’s work delves into this poetic juxtaposition, maximizing the immediately familiar grid of the abstract work to delve deeply into cultural signifiers.
The works of This is Not an Exit converge along multiple lines, tying in the geometric subdivisions of canvas often present in classic modernism, while using these approaches to springboard the work beyond a simple historical terminology. The works are acted on by its exterior environment, created through the multiplicity of use and interpretation, and composed of elemental bits of contemporary culture. Of course, at day’s end, this may be the most important part. While one can analyze the myriad understandings inherent in Collishaw’s work, one must always address its utilization of simple, raw material, its ultimate composition from fragmentary materials. At the point of near comprehension, the works break down, forcing the viewer to approach their composition from a new angle.
This is Not an Exit is on view until March 30th.