London, 12 – 21 Sep 2008
Sleazy hookers, cartoon pimps, retro Ford Capri motors and un-usual whispered business offers are all part and parcel of the Kings Cross experience, though regulars may find Paul Insect’s Poison show at Caledonian Road scrapes the knife a little too close to the brain and retina for comfort.
Mandatory street references have been provided by Insect in London Town since the Spring of this year with the scattering far and wide of Baby’s heads, from small stickers to big paste ups.
A plethora of baby heads with their cutaway skulls ask Steve Pinker-ish questions about thought processes, subconscious, innate mental programming and generally set a theme for the major works in the rest of the temporary space. In addition to a set of five babies with circuit boards, inner eyes and general abstract psychedelia, babies have been pasted all over the wall and part of the ceiling to create a crushing and vaguely sinister foetal soup.
Bunny Heads – photo: Wallkandy
A set of glossy colourful cartoon-ishly disfigured religious icons are described as acrylic on found religious iconography but the underlying icons look un-lived, un-marked and a bit fresh mounted on smooth sharp gold paper. If these came from the reject skip at a Coptic church’s rehang then it was a truly remarkable find.
The second room with its semi relief columns may remind Pictures On Walls of mid budget porn and we thank them for the enlightenment, but it really is the room where this show comes into its own. 18 unique paintings on canvas and wood touch on themes including drugs, sex, imagination, mental processes and psychological destabilisation. Oh yes, and skulls.
There are huge amounts of anatomy going on with portraits including misplaced organs and luridly coloured tracts and passages like a warped medic’s encyclopaedia.
The brain comes for close examination in several pieces but rather than attributing zones to various memory types, senses or control function, Insect uses colours and wild hair to illustrate the brains lightening electric response to various stimuli.
The pictures also seem to guide us towards a sense of the type of stimuli, and it looks like the key influences are those two human staples, sex and drugs. Pictures of girls kissing will have probably been the subject of a lot of the audience’s research on the internet, its hard to fail with that kind of subject matter though here we see not so much the act as the wild response triggered by this passion in the girl’s minds.
There is also a sense that whilst the kiss may be lasting or eternal, perhaps the kiss is even fatal as close scrutiny and analysis suggests the kiss could well be a Transylvanian bite on the jugular – which will often provoke a degree of excitability in the kissee’s head.
Some of the pieces are done on canvas but quite a few are on wood such as this supercharged crackling killer clown. Greed is possibly the trigger that has got his synapses discharging wildly into the void. Nice touch with the dribbles too.
Back to the use of colour and eruption to embody a thought, Dreaming of Colours is included here for no reason other than it is initially my favourite piece. Is anyone else thinking “Shakespeare’s Sister”?
The central feature of this second room is a heavy glass table mounted on a bunny girl skeleton on all fours. This submissive sex symbol has met her end gazing at herself in the mirror.
Her objectification and subjugation is captured in the detail of the pose right down to the stiletto boned feet.
On a practical level, the skeleton must, hopefully, be fabricated with some rigidity, the cool trick is that the eye sees a heavy table top on a skeleton but the mind needs assuring that the bones aren’t going to collapse in a percussive pile under the load.
Through to the Hirst bait in the final room, a macabre bunny mausoleum which is absolutely mesmeric. A dozen playgirl of the month sculptural bunny skulls ghoulishly confront eachother with their death’s triumph grins and garish bunny ears, like a Hugo Heffner hosted goth fandango.
Subtle details like the canines in one skull and gold tooth in another provide more than mere differentiation, there’s actually personality. No actual personalities were harmed in the creation of these artefacts, the ingredients are described as bronze, stainless steel, cocobola (googlygook: exotic hardwood from South America), enamel paint, 24 carat gold.
We may all be jaded by street art clichés and skulls are at the top of the list of offenders but it’s a relief to say that Paul Insect has taken the device and the image and successfully avoided the skulls-and-metal trite symbolism, using them in a totally refreshing and different way. Obviously this isn’t art for hanging on the staircase or over the radiator in the utility room and prices reflect that, though Damien might possibly negotiate a buy-11-get-1-free deal.
Folk who hanker after the pre-historic era of 40 quid Insect prints on the internet may be sated by the number of relative small edition prints for sale.
Insect is an artist who without doubt is playing in the Champions league rather than the Premiership, the pieces in the second and third rooms have a contemporary art sensibility that is appealing to a style ethic way beyond the basic I-like-graff-writer-stuff-in-my-lounge. The quality of the work and the presentation and lighting is a notch higher than usually accomplished in the street art field. Preceding multi-colourway sub-Warhol Insect work on James Lavelle’s album cover, and those rainbow coloured cows skulls didn’t really move him on much but there is a sense that this ought to be as pivotal as say Banksy’s Crude Oils show in broadening awareness of his work.
Choosing the pictures for this summary was a bit tricky, it might be worth having a look at a broader selection here