Wednesday, 19 November 2014

IDOLATRY

Tom Butler 'Geoeb', 2014 Gouache on albumen print 16.5x10cm
Tom Butler, Susannah Douglas, Luke Jackson, Sam Jackson, Geraldine Swayne

PRIVATE VIEW
Thursday November 27th 6:30-8:30pm 
CHARLIE SMITH LONDON
336 Old Street, London EC1V 9DR

EXHIBITION DATES
Friday November 28th Saturday December 20th 2014 
GALLERY HOURS
Wednesday-Saturday 11am-6pm or by appointment


CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is pleased to announce its final show of the year, Idolatry. This exhibition presents a group of artists who work fundamentally in miniature form. Image based, their work is informed by contemporary and historical visual culture, and undergoes a transformation as the artist intervenes with the found or appropriated. Taking ownership of the image, each artist reinvents the mechanically (or digitally) reproduced by returning it to the handmade. The choice of subject and method of application combine to create evocative works that are quietly subversive.

Tom Butler collects Victorian cabinet cards and works over the image in delicately rendered gouache. Using ever evolving motifs Butler seeks to conceal elements of the original subject, whilst projecting alternative characteristics on to them. Geometric abstract patterns; flora; hair; fur; or bandages might be employed to interrupt the original photographic image.  

Susannah Douglas makes impeccable drawings derived from found childhood photographs. Undoubtedly nostalgic, Douglas uses intelligent devices to jolt the viewer. Drawing on photographic techniques, Douglas might crop the drawing unusually; repeat an element to allude to spliced film; or subtly mirror an image, often having already collaged disparate source elements from which to make the drawing.

Luke Jackson draws on the political, social and philosophical to imbue his impasto paintings with an unusually weighty atmosphere. Often isolated within a space with only suggestions of an environment, Jackson’s figures suggest a Kafkaesque state of monotony, endeavor, disorientation and menace.  

Sam Jackson is recognized for his psychologically charged portraits and highly sexual nudes. Jackson’s newest paintings depict figures engaged in sexual activity in outside, rural environments. Whilst often being direct, these paintings have a gentleness that suggests the erotic rather than pornographic, and recalls 19th century en plein air painting.

Geraldine Swayne makes seductive, lyrical paintings in enamel on copper or aluminium. Swayne’s evident enthusiasm for the physicality and fluidity of paint is coupled with diverse and instinctive choices of subjects that are often surprisingly transgressive. Serial killers, murder victims and effete male models populate Swayne’s paintings alongside celebrities, friends and historical figures.      

Together with this exhibition we will present a new set of prints that was made to exhibit at the recent Saatchi Gallery exhibition ‘Cultus Deorum’, curated by gallery director Zavier Ellis. The series features etchings; offset prints; linocuts; lithographs and c-type prints by Florian Heinke, Sam Jackson, Reece Jones, Eric Manigaud, Alex Gene Morrison, Gavin Nolan, Dominic Shepherd and The Cult Of RAMMΣLLZΣΣ. Each is an edition of 50 and available at £250 + VAT.


Thursday, 30 October 2014

JOHN STARK WITCHCRAFT & WARFARE PRESS RELEASE



   'No Man's Land', 2014 Oil on wood panel 122x180cm

EXHIBITION DATES
Friday October 10th – Saturday November 15th 2014 
GALLERY HOURS
Wednesday-Saturday 11am-6pm or by appointment

Above the waist it was semi anthropomorphic, though its chest had the leathery, reticulated hide of a crocodile. The back was piebald with yellow and black and dimly suggested the squamous coverings of snakes. Below the waist though, it was the worst, for here all human resemblance left-off and sheer fantasy began. H. P. Lovecraft - The Dunwich Horror.

CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is delighted to present John Stark with his third one person exhibition at the gallery. 

In this exhibition Stark presents a new collection of paintings that appear to depict a world divided, besieged and devoid of moral constraints. By opposing common assumptions based on Christian mechanisms, for example that prayer is purer than incantation; and by addressing the idea that modern civilisation uses Christian morality to legitimise its own violence, Stark seeks to go beyond centuries of doctrine and propaganda to express the reality of the horror that lies beneath western reason.

The centrepiece of this exhibition, ‘No Man’s Land’, Stark’s largest painting to date, includes numerous figures: witches, demons, satyrs, Greek gods, zombie soldiers and pin up girls who cavort and coagulate in various rituals and invocations. It is a place of metaphysical darkness where such perversions are permitted to exist. Recalling historical allegory painting by way of pulp horror and erotica, we are presented with a Bacchanalian depiction of indulgence, malevolence and empowerment that refers to the cyclical births, evolutions and downfalls of societies throughout history, everywhere.

But there is a deep underlying contradiction at the heart of these paintings, where the artist employs traditions and narratives in order to demystify and undermine those very same traditions and narratives. By embracing otherness Stark parodies the familiar and in doing so ensures his position remains ambiguous, with the viewer never quite able to make certified judgements, both morally and aesthetically. Our intellectual assumptions are challenged as we are forced to contemplate the contrary relationships between reality and illusion; modern and primitive; good and evil; sacred and profane; salvation and damnation. Stark tells us that these are not contradictions but interrelated aspects of a complex universe, where hierarchies are dissolved and polarities dismantled.   

FLESH REMAINS TEXT BY JESSICA LACK

'The Siege', 2014 Oil on wood panel 112x154cm

John Stark

Witchcraft & Warfare
Text by Jessica Lack | Flesh Remains


Highway 31 stops abruptly, ten kilometres short of the North Korean border. All roads north end like this, snipped off like short fuses waiting for ignition from a lighted match. Beyond is the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a pervasive void framed by a hazy grey mountain range. You can’t see much of North Korea from here, but it doesn’t stop tourists filming the open range. Their jerky panoramas accompanied by the timbrey whistle of a high wind on the microphone.

This no-go zone is the inspiration for Witchcraft and Warfare, John Stark’s new series of paintings on show at CHARLIE SMITH LONDON. The paintings can be divided into two parts. Those created while Stark was living in Seoul in 2013 and those made on his return to England earlier this year.

‘Prey’ and ‘Enter’ capture something of the old shamanic mysticism that still exists on the margins of the Korean Peninsula. It is a hidden world, rarely spoken of, but integral to the Korean way of life. These paintings are a continuation of an earlier series he made called ‘Field Work’, documenting the Haunted Mountain where the Shamans still operate.

Among the myriad of oddities that go hand-in-hand with being a dislocated expat in South Korea, Stark was frequently mistaken for an American soldier. Out of the Promethean shadows of this alienation came the paintings he made on his return to England which confront imperialism and the moral dilemma between East and West.

In ‘No Man’s Land’ a naked woman rises up out of a swarm of slatterns into a forked lunar light, a Mother Teresa horror show saint. Beneath her is a scene of unimaginable gruesomeness. Skulls hang from a tree; a woman with bloody stumps has a rope tied to her breasts, which is being pulled by her spinsterish companion. Their faces, pictures of middle-aged fatigue, resemble dowager aunts who should be exploring the back streets of Florence, prostrating themselves on the altar of Fra Angelico, not submerged in the dank waters of this Dantesque hell.

I’m not sure if Stark has read Alan Moore’s graphic novel Lost Girls, a mix of bawdy humour and pornographic de Sade depravity, but there’s a similarity in the way Moore’s sexual imagination runs riot while still retaining a strong moral agenda. Stark, like Moore has a prodigiously fertile imagination, yet the real drama in this painting exists not with the furies, but in the intense kryptonite eyes of the watchtower as it gazes out over no-mans land to a cool, silvery figure in the foreground.

That radioactive green, the colour of Fairy Liquid, resurfaces again in ‘The Lookout’ and ‘Conjuring an Armed Skeleton’, in the pensive face of the watcher and then as a freakish fire sprung from a grinning cauldron. There is something unearthly about the colour’s lurid artificiality, perhaps because it is also the green of night vision. A device first used to brutal effect during the Korean War, and now a familiar technique in low-budget horror movies ever since Blair Witch. I feel this paradox is not lost on Stark, an artist who has made a career out of re-working old masters in audacious new ways.

‘Conjuring an Armed Skeleton’ is a great piece of theatre in the manner of Goya. With its pig’s head, mock-Celtic symbols and mad-as-a-box-of-cats witch, it embraces a long tradition of undead cadavers dating back to early International Gothic. What happens when you call up a rotting soldier covered in seaweed and slime? Who knows? The women in the painting seem peculiarly uninterested in the results of their alchemy; the wraith is more ghoulish abstraction than cautionary tale. Skeleton soldiers rose up from the depths in Brueghel’s ‘The Triumph of Death’, yet Stark is also alluding to the West’s romanticism of Orientalism in fantasy films like ‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad’. There are obvious references to gaming here too, particularly in the flatness of colour, reminiscent of CGI while those surfaces, as shiny as plastic wrap, say something about the rampant capitalism witnessed by Stark in South Korea.

The dead solider theme continues in ‘The Siege’ with a wounded GI staggering about in the shallows while Bacchanalian revellers party on. Stretched out on the shoreline is the blubbery mass of Silenus, tutor to Dionysus who, when drunk, became incredibly wise. For Stark this sated creature represents Western Enlightenment, except here his intellectual brilliance has been entirely eclipsed by Lara Croft’s buttocks. It’s a nice moment of balloon pricking.

Ultimately it is the shadow of war and its accompanying depravities that linger over these paintings – one cast with a vigour that has eluded the Chapman Brothers. The beasts and the witches, the muddled fumbling of satyrs and porn stars climaxing to a frenzy, are simply a microcosm of human vulnerability. Silenus believed that it was better not to be born at all, that the world of the dead was preferable to that of the living. Stark’s paintings, in all their degeneracy, are a humane call to arms, a seductive defence of the right to exist.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

THE FUTURE CAN WAIT 2014 PRESS RELEASE


TFCW 2014

Saatchi Art’s New Sensations and THE FUTURE CAN WAIT present London’s biggest independent curated exhibition.

Once again Saatchi Art’s New Sensations and THE FUTURE CAN WAIT join forces to present over 60 artists in Bloomsbury Square’s stunning museum scale venue Victoria House.

The exhibition is London’s longest running event alongside Frieze Art Fair and has become a key destination for discovering the best emerging to mid-career artists and recent graduates in the UK. Selected by contemporary art world taste makers, the event continues to provide the opportunity for first time buyers and world class collectors to acquire the most exciting new wave art.

New Sensations, sponsored by Absolut, and THE FUTURE CAN WAIT, were initiated in 2007. New Sensations was launched by Rebecca Wilson, chief curator of Saatchi Art, to support the most imaginative and talented young artists in the UK and to present their work to an international audience during Frieze week. THE FUTURE CAN WAIT was launched by Zavier Ellis and Simon Rumley as an ambitious, curated exhibition of emerging to mid-career artists to offer an alternative experience to the traditional gallery and art fair systems.

The artists in both New Sensations and THE FUTURE CAN WAIT will be announced soon and all work is for sale.

Websites:
www.saatchiart.com/newsensations | www.thefuturecanwait.com

TERMINALIA TEXT BY REECE JONES


 'The Undisputed Heavyweight Champion Of The World', 2014 Charcoal & polymer varnish on paper 130x110cm

They can be quite insistent, considering the potential for variables. They are frightened I suppose that interpretations might somehow deviate from theirs - that the truths they have established and curated are vulnerable to evolution or misinterpretation. Their landmarks and milestones are wreathed in floral offerings, the fences and riverbanks are daubed with soil encrusted paint. I may have failed to honor a particular boundary marker sufficiently and now the larger of the congregation have me hoisted above it, inverted, blood rushing to my face as it is squashed into the mossy flint. Local flint.

On the other side of the ditch another boy. My age I suppose. He prods at a dormant mole hill with his ceremonial staff. He jingles. They have bells on that side of the ditch. No such humiliation here. My smock is silent but for the wet slap of the muddy hem on my ever reddening face. He looks up at me and I squint at him. He nods in solemn recognition as I am dropped arse first to the ground.

My attention is directed to a line of black painted bricks running up the side of the old house by the pond. We hitch up our skirts and climb through the pantry window. The clatter of pots and the smashing of vases a justifiable, ceremonial admonishment for the insult of maintaining a dwelling within and beyond the parish border. The boy continues to prod at the turf until the loud crack of a whip echoes out and he is startled back to his group.


Reece Jones, 2014

TERMINALIA PRESS RELEASE





'The Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World III', 2014 Charcoal & polymer varnish on paper 50x32cm







Curated by Reece Jones
Matthew Cowan, Reece Jones, CJ Mahony
PRIVATE VIEW
Thursday September 4th 6:30-8:30pm
EXHIBITION DATES
Friday September 5th –  Saturday October 4th 2014 
GALLERY HOURS
Wednesday-Saturday 11am-6pm or by appointment

Artists exist within and alongside pre-determined, pre-existent boundaries, co-ordinates and pathways long since established. They are variously aware of the proximity of these territories, their histories, their previous inhabitants, their provocative neighbours and dearest defenders. Making more art re-asserts these invisible lines, naturally challenges them or deliberately disregards them - enabling the layout of entirely new spaces in which to dwell.

Before modern systems of mapping, tradition insisted that members of tribes, townships or cities would physically trace the borders of their parish, being made aware of its variables, correcting its anomalies and assuring a new generation would carry the knowledge on. This knowledge was often forcefully imprinted on the psyche of young villagers by beating upon them at key junctions or even bouncing them forcefully on marker stones or fence posts. The tradition became known as ‘Beating the Bounds’ and is still practiced on occasion to this day.

The artists in Terminalia all seek to draw attention to or deliberately subvert particular marker points. Either exploring latent lore and tradition, marking new terrain by counteracting existent architectures or allowing unstable signs and signifiers to create navigational anomalies and mis-steps.

Reece Jones


EDITOR’S NOTES

Matthew Cowan is a New Zealand artist working in the realm of traditional European customs and folklore. His works are photographs, videos, installations and performances that play with the inherent strangeness of the continued popularity of long established folk customs in a modern world.

Many of his works can be viewed as staged folk performances in themselves, acting on the elements of rituals which link people to the past. In investigating the celebration and intent of such traditions, a primary theme is the presence of humour and subversion of the accepted social order.

Cowan has recently exhibited in, London, Sapporo, New York and Auckland.

A newly commissioned 16mm performance film, The Terminalia of Funny-land is showing at Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts in Auckland, New Zealand from August 2014. Recent solo exhibitions include Agency Gallery in London and NURTURE Art, New York. For 2009, Matthew Cowan was the artist in residence at Cecil Sharp House, the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

Reece Jones predominantly makes invented images on paper using particular processes to enforce or define pictures whose initial subject territories may be whimsical, improbable, impossible or theoretically muddled. Cross references, samples and complete fabrications are often layered and juxtaposed until an image is made manifest whose origins are potentially difficult to define.

In his recent work Jones uses ‘evidence’ of mythological or supernatural beasts as a point of reference, working with and evolving these core signifiers until they become apparently more authoritative. Ultimately the viewer is invited to assess the legacy of surface, process, documentary, translation, actuality and illusion. An ongoing game of Chinese Whispers wherein a mischievous player throws occasional curve balls.

Jones graduated from the Royal Academy Schools in 2002 and was one of the founding members of Rockwell project space in Hackney. His work has shown internationally. Solo shows include All Visual Arts, Andrew Mummery Gallery and Triumph Gallery Moscow. Group shows include: Lion & Lamb, London; Newlyn Gallery; Stephane Simoens, Belgium; Voorkamer, Belgium; Torrance Art Museum, LA; Drawing Room. London; Fruesorge, Berlin; Tokyo Wonder site and Transition, London.

CJ Mahony’s practice explores stability, impermanence, and space via the distinction between sculptural object and immersive environment. Using structures that allude to corridors, paper folds, geometry, fragments, support structures, the subterranean and backstage spaces, her work ranges from large scale, site responsive constructions to fragile, speculative models.

Her work sets up complex contrasts between the dimensions of architecture, the scale of the human body, and the idea of the object, often manipulating light and darkness to create a heightened state of awareness and uncertainty, requiring the audience to negotiate physically and emotionally in order to traverse the work.

Mahony graduated from Camberwell’s MA Fine Art course in 2012. She has featured in the Art Angel Open 100 and The Catlin Guide and was a finalist for the Royal Society of British Sculptors Sculpture Shock (Subterranean) commission. Over the past 8 years she has undertaken a large number of public commissions. Group shows include: Block 336, London; Aid & Abet, Cambridge; Matt Roberts, London; Momentarily Lost, Leeds; Aurora International, Norwich; Borrowed Site commissioned by Situ Projects Cornwall; The Fishmarket Gallery, Northampton; and Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge.

Forthcoming projects include; The Hand That Takes, Cambridge Junction, and Machines to Crystallise Time, Smiths Row Gallery. 

CULTUS DEORUM

Ellis, Zavier 'Cultus Deorum', 2014 Hard ground etching on 300 gsm Somerset soft white velvet paper (Ed. 50) 29.7x21cm




SAATCHI GALLERY

PRINTS & ORIGINALS GALLERY

Cultus Deorum

1 October  – 27 October 2014

Curated by Zavier Ellis, Director, CHARLIE SMITH LONDON

London, UK – On 1 October, the Saatchi Gallery will open Cultus Deorum, an exhibition of works by nine contemporary artists, in the Prints & Originals Gallery.

The artists featured in the exhibition are Florian Heinke, Sam Jackson, Reece Jones, Eric Manigaud, The Cult Of RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ, Alex Gene Morrison, Gavin Nolan, Dominic Shepherd and John Stark. Zavier Ellis has also made a curator’s etching.

The term cultus deorum was defined by the Roman philosopher Cicero as ‘the cultivation of the gods’. Pre-Christianity, these gods were pagan and the focus of many and varied cultish rituals. Prayer, sacrifice, offerings, symbols and ceremonial actions came to define any individual cult. Each artist in this exhibition explores the ‘cult drive’ with reference to their general practice.

Florian Heinke is influenced by traditional and digital media sources and often combines text and image to create an aesthetic suggestive of polemical posters or advertisements.

Sam Jackson makes psychological portraits that employ religious signs and symbols in the form of tattoos and graffiti.

Reece Jones investigates the whimsical, improbable, impossible or theoretically muddled in his unique charcoal drawings. In his recent work he references ‘evidence’ of mythological or supernatural beasts.

Eric Manigaud makes impeccable large scale photorealist pencil drawings that are representations of the consequences of political and social ideologies.

The Cult Of RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ is an avant-garde group working in performance, video and installation, exploring the history of the city and graffiti, whilst adopting ancient notions of the ritualistic.

Alex Gene Morrison employs motifs in his paintings, collages and animation drawn from contemporary notions of the primitive and references to the occult.

Gavin Nolan is known for his ongoing series of portraits and self-portraits. The artist draws upon religious cults including Judaism & Catholicism, political cults such as Nazism and the modern cult of celebrity.

Dominic Shepherd creates paintings inspired by his experience of living in Dorset woodland and his interests in historic and contemporary cultures and folk groups.

John Stark expresses his interests in philosophy, religion and the occult through an impeccable and labour intensive painting process.

Zavier Ellis is the Director of the gallery CHARLIE SMITH LONDON and an artist. The gallery was established in east London in 2009. It has rapidly gained a reputation for innovative exhibitions showcasing the work of emerging, talented and sought after artists.

For any press-related enquiries please email press@saatchigallery.com

or contact Bianca Gidwani at +44 (0)207 811 3076.





 
























Thursday, 24 July 2014

ANTHOLOGY 2014 PRESS RELEASE


PRIVATE VIEW
Thursday July 31st 6:30-8:30pm
EXHIBITION DATES
Friday August 1st – Saturday August 16th 2014 
GALLERY HOURS
Wednesday-Saturday 11am-6pm or by appointment
CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is delighted to present Anthology for the fourth year running. Anthology is an annual open call exhibition with a global outreach. Ten applicants are selected to exhibit at the gallery by a five person jury, from which one winner is selected and awarded a £2,000 cash prize. Previous winners are Tom Ormond, Eric Manigaud and Robert Crosse. The 2014 jury members are Zavier Ellis, Hélène Guérin, Justin Hammond, Marcus Harvey and Jessica Lack.

ANTHOLOGY 2014 FINALISTS

Dan Beard
Adam Dix
Jonny Green
Florian Heinke
Rachel Levitas
Darren Marshall
Edd Pearman
Michael Slusakowicz
Susan Sluglett
Ben Woodeson


Monday, 21 July 2014

ANTHOLOGY 2014 Long List

ANNOUNCING: ANTHOLOGY LONG LIST 2014
The Anthology 2014 jury members Zavier Ellis, Hélène Guérin, Justin Hammond, Marcus Harvey and Jessica Lack have convened to select the 2014 long list, from which ten finalists will be selected to exhibit at CHARLIE SMITH LONDON in August. One winner will be selected from the exhibition and awarded a £2,000 cash prize. Please scroll down to view the 2014 long list.
LONG LIST
Hermione Allsopp
Chris Anthem
Kim Baker
Dan Beard
Dora Bendixen
Juan Bolivar
Cecilia Bonilla
Agnes Calf
Chris Campbell
Michal Cole
Michelle Conway
Emma Cousin
Ben Cove
Adam Dix
Susannah Douglas
Alexandra Flood
Susan Gofstein
Jonny Green
Florian Heinke
Chistopher Hudson
Sally Kindberg
Wouter van de Koot
Rachel Levitas
Florencia Levy
Enzo Marra
Darren Marshall
Lucy May
Claire Partington
Edd Pearman
Yoav Ruda
Wendy Saunders
Alexandra Sinopoulou
Susan Sluglett
Michael Slusakowicz
William Stein
Geraldine Swayne
Ilona Szalay
Julie Umerle
Charlie Warde
Ben Woodeson
Lisa Wright
CHARLIE SMITH LONDON
336 Old St, Shoreditch, London EC1V 9DR
+44 (0)20 7739 4055
www.charliesmithlondon.com

Saturday, 19 July 2014

THE ALCHEMY OF THE STREET by Edward Lucie-Smith

Zavier Ellis 'The End Of Days', 2014 Liquitex acrylic, spray paint, oil, tape, collage on board 200x300cm
ARTIST
Zavier Ellis
EXHIBITION
Type 1 Zealotry (curated by Edward Lucie-Smith)
EXHIBITION DATES
28th June - 25th July at the Cock'n'Bull Gallery, Shoreditch

THE ALCHEMY OF THE STREET
By Edward Lucie-Smith

Zavier Ellis combines two roles: that of being an internationally known avant-garde artist, and that of being a successful dealer. Self-evidently, each role feeds into the other. His perception of what is creatively vital and new, which is the driving force of his own practice as an artist, also informs the choices he makes as a dealer.

The progress of his own art has been meditative and deeply considered, which is one reason why this is his first solo show in London for a decade, though his work has made a considerable recent impact in museum presentations in Europe and the United States. What he offers represents a combination of elements, often things that seem to stand at extreme distances from one another. In particular, it combines a fascination with graffiti with an equal fascination with the esoteric. This, in turn, acts as a reminder that the graffiti we casually encounter in the street are themselves often part of a secret language of signs, revealing their real meanings only to the informed and initiated.

This popular signage utters things that at first seem fragmentary and inchoate, yet somehow of deep psychological significance to modern urbanites who are prepared to pay attention. Indeed, the process of puzzling out, which art works of this kind impose on the spectator, somehow tend to bond us to them more closely. That is, what begins as a communication, from one sensibility to another, evolves into something that more closely resembles a dialogue.

What Ellis says about his own work is this: “Rather than street art I would claim a fascination with the street itself, or the urban environment/the city… The elements my eyes are most drawn to are signing writing, posters, old faded advertisements painted directly on to brickwork, roughly drawn graffiti, street markings…” He sees these elements as being “part of a battle to render something permanent from the fleeting and ephemeral.”

In addition to this Ellis has an interest in the esoteric – in concealed or half-concealed codings of a more traditional kind. He notes, for example, that he has created a new symbol by fusing the Star of David and the Christian cross. The lettering that appears prominently in his work offers hidden messages, using a simple but ancient encrypting technique called the Atbash cipher. In this the alphabet is cut into two equal parts, with the second set of letters running backwards, underneath but exactly parallel with the first. To code a message, each letter is simply exchanged for the one immediately above or beneath it.

In a certain sense, this seems more reminiscent of the way that contemporary poetry operates, rather than like the mechanisms of the contemporary visual arts. I’m reminded of something that the poet Ted Hughes said in an interview given in 1996, towards the end of his life: “I feel that my poems are obscure. I give the secret away without giving it. People are so dumb they don’t know I’ve given the secret away.”

The artistic influences that Ellis acknowledges are not the Graffiti artists popular in New York in the 1980s, but earlier Modernists such as Schwitters (whose impact is very evident in some of the works), also Tapiès and Robert Rauschenberg. He also cites the impact made on him by the photography of Brassaï, who made a large number of images of graffiti, collected under the rubric The Language of the Wall.

He sees his output as being the product of research as much as it is the product of what he sees around him in the contemporary urban context. There are references that are overt, others that are deliberately hidden – to religion, to occult beliefs, to insanity (and the links between these three topics). There is populism, but also the employment of quite elaborate symbolic language(s) in the plural. Not just the use of verbal codes but also of coded colour, and of codes based on measurements, based on the width of the lettering that appears so frequently and prominently in these compositions.

Essentially much of the art of the present day can be regarded as enacting a struggle for primacy between populist and elitist impulses. The problem, often enough, is that this struggle is often only semi-conscious. There is a desire somehow to marry the structures of official art with the anti-official impulses of the avant-garde tradition. It is refreshing to encounter art that openly acknowledges this situation and tries to analyse it and use it as a source of creative energy.


Zavier Ellis’ work as an artist seems to me a sophisticated meditation on problems that he also encounters every day in other departments of his life. This work does not offer settled answers. What it does is to formulate probing questions about the society we live in, and about the urban environment (a direct product of this society) that, sometimes suffocatingly, surrounds us.