Strange Days
curated by Helen Murphy

Jemima Brown, Max Hymes, Caroline Achaintre,
Jason Oliver, James Green, Simon Ward, Helen Murphy.

1- 29 march 2015

private view
friday 29 february 6 - 9pm

In keeping with the current gothic revival, Whitecross Gallery welcomes you to an exciting mix of eccentric characters, mythical beasts and other quasi religious monsters and fairground freaks. Strange Days combines cutting edge Royal College graduates with more established artists using diverse materials, textures and forms to explore the darker recesses of their quirky imaginations. Viewers are sent on a dizzying circus ride through weird and wonderful territory, ultimately questioning just what kind of strange beings have we become in these foreboding and apocalyptic times.

Decadence and debauchery permeate Jemima Brown’s notorious life sized wax characters. Modelled upon wannabe Daisy Buchannan from Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, and transposed into the contemporary club scene, is the gloriously gothic Michael Sailor Moon Daisy. Part Manga, part vamp, she comes with attitude and coke stained nostrils – a hedonistic icon of underground chic that highlights a disturbing media glamorisation of self destruction, and our insatiable appetite for negative celebrity gossip. Alongside her is a Warhol inspired film in which each of her wax peers are screen tested for their promised fifteen minutes of fame, and eerily brought to life by the insertion of the artist’s own eyes.

We are what we consume, and we are creatures of habit, according to Helen Murphy’s kaleidoscopically patterned figures, who appear to be frenetically dancing, fighting, and shoplifting all at once. Citing complex reasons for humanity’s decline into dis-eased chaos and mental instability, her oddball characters wear their processed diets and materialistic obsessions upon their sleeves - a familiar concoction of drugs, weapons, lipsticks and tabloids.

James Green shows a new series of imaginative masks based on the changing face of John Merrick, the Elephant Man. Colourful and bursting with pustules and protuberances, the masks function as a disturbing diary as to how Merrick may have seen himself.

Paying homage to heavy metal music, as well as German expressionism, the gnashing fang filled jaws of Caroline Achaintre’s faces also have certain mask – like qualities.
Working across a variety of formats, there is a contrasting juxtaposition between the constrained monochromatic geometrics of her solid and weighty Square head rug, compared with the soft fluidity of her small, and more representational watercolours, albeit no less gruesome.

In what has been described as ‘expressionism meets surrealism in a worryingly dark alleyway’ Jason Oliver shows a new triptych of  Goya-esque woodcuts. Through his practice of traditional printmaking, Jason looks to the ancient orient in order to seek enlightenment beneath the fetishised surface of consumer gimmick. Conversely he is also attracted to the world of high tech, and has adapted Rapid Profiling techniques, normally used in industry, for producing intriguing sculptures.

Max Hymes also looks to exotic cultures and folklore for inspiration with a more spiritual focus. His objects incorporate an eclectic amalgamation of British Folk Art and Arts and Crafts aesthetics, with exotic fruits and primitive, or voodoo symbols and patterns. Meticulous glass beadwork, and luxuriously intricate surface decoration implies a spiritual meaning beyond economic importance. The beaded animals head or skull at the centre of many of his works, appears almost as a trophy, prompting questions as to whether it is a celebration of a distant, yet familiar beast, or something more sinister in which an object has been removed from its ritualistic or ceremonial context.

The vampire connotation of working at night, and of scouring graveyards for inanimate objects, is part of the performative process involved in creating Simon Ward’s powerful images. His process of direct scanning rather than using photography produces images of immense detail and clarity, and is key to an eeriness about the dolls that are all too real in their half buried condition. Their presentation in coffin-like black box frames couldn’t be more appropriate.

Strange characters in strange days...indeed.  Enter at your peril.