Rob Leech
Selected Works
About
FORT
Contact        

 

 

Cheap Flights
By Rachel Potts
 

There is something of the aesthetic experience, that still-indefinable, detached pleasure, in our appreciation of certain everyday items. After all, much of what we see and use is carefully and artfully designed to appeal. Martin Creed’s famous citing of a cooker and a record player, when asked to pick five works of art from the 20th century that he would like to own, points to the occurrence of something like an aesthetic experience within everyday reality, and the intricate relationship we have to objects and images which we know are seducing us while they do it.

Artworks are almost definitely infinitely more complex than cookers, however. Rob Leech goes to the local street market quite a lot, and finds cheap goods, which he sometimes uses in his art. He’s drawn to brightness and shine. His works are visually striking and have a controlled purity, an almost anal simplicity, something like the sleekness that only a machine can achieve. They are also always bordering on the comical, while being deadly serious about the seductive power of surface, the satisfaction and spark of formal virtuosity or pure colour. Abstract painting’s history is in there, Frank Stella’s desire to have the paint exactly as it was in the can. All this, the spectacularly slick, or gorgeous, occurs in his work along with the decidedly normal: buckets, metal cans, hairdryers.

Nicky Carvell’s 90s graphics and pastel shades hark back to her local leisure centres in Hemel Hempstead . The “naff” references she pulls are forced into wild exuberant explosions. Sometimes structured as cut-outs or almost sculptural reliefs they wear their awareness that they are presenting themselves to an audience on their sleeve. Rob Leech’s painterly sculptures share this staged, shop-window, point-of-sale attitude, and a certain revelling in blatant artificiality.

Much criticism exists of current art, current culture, as so corporatized it doesn’t know its arse from its insular, market-driving, western capitalist blandness. But is there a stance for artists dealing with mass culture, in between critic and sell-out? Often thought of as one of the art world’s most conspicuous of the latter is Jeff Koons, who said in an interview about his suitably flamboyant exhibition in 2008 at Versailles palace, “I'm interested in sensuality. I'm interested in power.”[ii] The question is, who isn’t? His work pulls on some widely shared desires. It is upbeat and not overtly critical, but that’s not to say it does nothing but step right in with the marketeers of branded produce. 

 

Particularly Rob Leech and Nicky Carvell’s work is about enshrining things that you both love and think are slightly awful, one of postmodern art’s great pleasures. Carvell made a piece last year called Greasy Impulse. It doesn’t seem like irony in a negative sense here however, there is something else going on. Koons again, says “I always think of irony as basically something that's kind of surprising… it's just something that presents itself. And if it does, I find it's usually optimistic, not negative”. [iii]

 

All the work in this show is much more British and suburban in its pleasure-taking than the Koonsian model, like a bag of chips rather than an flash car. Rob Eagle’s work relishes something of the advertorial sparkle, but his references to the quiet faded glamour of the English seaside, slightly aged billboard typography and muted 1950s Pop palette display a nostalgic, almost bemused association with this cultural matter. Jolts of surprise at his alterations of scale draw on our childlike engagement with objects, the resonance of being charmed. There is a slight shabbiness to his pieces, memory and comfort hover in the backgound.  As in Carvell’s work, there is a sense of leisure – unglossy pastimes, a small kind of glamour, almost an innocence. There’s an engaging personal connection here, although the objects he makes draw from this world of constructed fun and easy laughs.

 

The underbelly of the mass-cultural world rears its head too in this show, in a more direct critique of its seediest manipulations. The pleasures referenced in James Howard’s work hail from a similar consumer dream that the other artists deal with, but his focus is on the scams, rip-offs and junk adverts found in the back of the Daily Sport and on our screens. His Dirt Cheap Flights (the video is part of a series on British stereotypes) lead to rubbish beach holidays in concrete nightmare resorts. He caricatures the worst of the worst sales pitches, assuming their nasty graphics and bad photography.

 

This is partly stuff we all know about but can’t quite believe works, and yet, through his exaggeration, the promises in his borrowed phrases become isolated, highlighting that they speak to fairly universal desires, fantasies, and wishes to escape. Additionally, cheap flights do, for many of us, seriously mean an affordable break.

 

The digital element in the work by Howard and Carvell points to another potentially sinister condition of late capitalist living, a disconnected artificiality seeping its way into our current reality. Physical labour is not manifest in digital art in the same way it is in material objects. It is non-living, as Julian Stallabrass writes, it “does not age, is infinitely reproducible and, if lost or destroyed, can in principle be exactly reconstructed. Such works are not so much heavenly as alien.”[iv]

 

Alien it may well be, but the digital is not going away. Howard’s work is less about celebration but just as much about contemporary experience as the other artists showing here – the dead and unnatural and plasticized, the machine-made and fluorescent, along with their attractions and repulsions. Digital art’s strange youth as a medium is something that Howard is also drawn to, he likes its lack of art history. It has that glint of newness, ‘the future’, that machine-made developments towards ease and speed have fascinated us with since they first appeared.

 

The work in this show is all timely, offering an intelligent and an emotional attitude towards the empty promises, the fleeting value, and the seductive strength of the objects and visuals we live with, albeit a relatively materially comfortable ‘we’. It looks towards getting at the intricacies of pleasure and promise within the framework of a particular lived reality now, be that one filled with quick-fix highs, screens and neon, plastic-looking facades. It’s also about the flipping back and forth between the everyday, the ordinary and the untouchable, the acknowledgement of the role of fantasy in our lives. Pop Art’s brilliance was in claiming back to art a kind of realism that didn’t have anything to do with either grittiness or loftiness. Not all reality is gritty, and sometimes the best bits are the dreams.

 

 

 



[i] Matthew Higgs, 'Martin Creed: 20 Questions', Untitled, no. 18, Spring 1999

 

[ii]Jeff Koons’ by David Colman, Interview Magazine, Nov 2008

 

[iii] As above

 

[iv] Julian Stallabrass, ‘Money, Disembodied Art, and the Turing Test for Aesthetics’, 2002