New Cross Gallery, 6 March – 31 March, 2008
New Cross is a place outside London, Sarf of the River. The underground doesn’t go there any more. Taxi drivers charge a fortune and get lost. On the A-Z it is in a wilderness zone marked “Beware dragyns”.
The first indication of any artistic endeavour is a stencilled bird skull on the façade of a starkly lit, small (north of the river it would be “bijou”), plain fronted (minimalist) shop. This inauspicious location was the right place to find ”Scrapped”, the first solo show by Arofish.
Arofish is one of our most ideological, independent and right-minded partition defacers. He also seems to come from the school of elusive-is-the-new-high-profile, not deigning to attend his own opening – we think. Efforts to expunge evidence of his identity extend to scratching out his own name and date of birth from the capture certificate acquired in Iraq, offence: “Anti coalition grafiti” – their spelling, not mine.
The main elements of the show are a variety of familiar Arofish images on found objects, a couple of prints released at the opening, a wall mural and an montage of images deployed by Arofish in various middle eastern states.
Let’s deal with the originals. One of the newest images having made its debut a few weeks ago on the streets of Shoreditch is Strawman, a metaphor for a disguised viral propagator of lies and harm. This Strawman on metal plate is crucified on a cross, has a crown of thorns on his head and birds looming menacingly on the arms of the sacred religious symbol. The target appears to be religion, specifically cross worshipping Christianity and the evils of evangelicism. However, until the mystery of the one leg is resolved perhaps the true meaning lies somewhere else.
My long-time favourite Arofish is Alas My Ship, perhaps this appeals to the nautical ephemera spotter in me. The problem with rendering this or any image on found modern sailcloth is that the material is designed to minimise stretch for achingly technical reasons we needn’t go into. The consequence is that it doesn’t take to stretching on a frame terribly well, and this one looks a bit wrinkled and puckered round the edges. The piece wasn’t for sale anyway. The least worse of a pretty bad set of pictures on this camera is the only one with the slightest glimpse of Alas My Ship. If anyone has some decent pictures I could feature here for due credit and glory, please drop me a line.
Another great street image recently revealed is the Plague Doctor. This simply is a beautifully cut stencil image which has looked stunning in every execution. The show version on an arc of aluminium is the mirror image of those previously seen on the street.
Queen and Country features the bug-eyed death-merchant pilot seen previously on the Eject and Survive print, this unique version has been sprayed on metal.
One piece which wont be affected by the oxidisation threat is Untitled, a parody of the self serving munificence of suits “assisting” the third world poor by providing them with arms and fuelling their guerrilla wars.
Stray Cats and Bag Ladies is a gorgeous touching image, this time on a lipped rusty steel plate rather than the wooden headboard seen at The Leonard Street Gallery last year.
Angel on a swing on shiny metal looks lush, and whilst one of these does bless chez NoLions in the form of the pearlescent print version, the resonance between the angel with her wings and swing, and the descending troopers gripping their parachute cords has always seemed a bit obscure.
The central motif of the show is She Walks In Beauty, a porcelain-skinned mini-skirted skinny waif-innocent seeming reduced to marketing herself by her looks, menacingly set against the back drop of a defaced police incident witness appeal board. An original version dominates one end of the gallery (pic below), a framed AP of the limited edition print run is hung to the right (pic above) and the images repeats in the show posters which adorn the street window. Curiously, the intensity of a series of dark slashes across the incident board appears in identical geometry but to differing intensities in the three forms, clearly a function of the different production techniques. The large unique version has been enhanced by some indecipherable marker pen tagging, its absence from the poster and the screenprint suggest this was added afterwards rather than found and smacks of straining too hard to annex further street cred for an already sufficiently cool piece. For the record, the screenprint is ed 25, three colours screen printed with the red added by hand by Arofish. The AP had an Arofish blindstamp but not the tag, curious.
The sharp contrast of the Strawman print is fantastic, sadly it may be destined like many other pieces vaguely negative on religion to be un-acceptable in front of the kids at home and shunned at work.
The beauty of Arofish’s images lies in the quality of the stencilling, originality of image, avoidance of the obvious metaphor and the way a particular message is softly transmitted without getting too strident or resorting to too many of the currently vogue-ish clichés. The only skulls on view here belonged to animals
It is definitely worth packing the Kendals Mint Cake and blowing the dust off the prismatic compass and navigating your way down to New Cross, the gallery is actually only a couple of hundred yards from New Cross BR station. And you’ll have plenty of time for a trip to the Maritime Museum after. Virtually all images guaranteed to be wife/partner/child friendly but hopefully Arofish has not lost his knack for simultaneously keeping it real. Set aside an hour to visit www.arofish.org.uk to find out more about Arofish and his exploits and observations inside Iraq, Beirut and Palestine, this will not be time wasted