Times Live | Graham Wood:
Beezy Bailey’s new exhibition at the Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg returns to a recurring theme in his work, but probably not one you’d normally associate with the art world’s prankster playboy: the landscape.
HEAVEN AND EARTH: Beezy Bailey’s new exhibition takes landscapes to fresh heights
Whether they’re the dreamscapes of his sometimes dark, sometimes whimsical surrealist canvases or the more conventional landscapes that he has at times treated as technical exercises, he has returned to landscape painting over and over again. In Landscapes with a Twist he’s giving the form his full mischievous attention.
The works in this exhibition feature the vast grasslands, distant mountains, Karoo scrub and open skies associated with traditional landscape painting – or perhaps as close as Bailey can get – as well as a few night-time cityscapes and dreamscapes. But superimposed on them, floating or filtering though like eerie presences, are silkscreen images: Renaissance Madonnas, Christ figures and lilies.
Bailey did something similar in 2011 at his last solo exhibition in Johannesburg, Icon- Iconoclast, featuring Andy Warhol’s trademark silkscreen technique to superimpose famous photos of Nelson Mandela on his paintings, some of them landscapes. There, he seemed to be exploring his misgivings about the commercialised media-generated image of Mandela (hence the pop-art reference), while at the same time using it to open up a gap to make a more genuine tribute to him. (The impulse seems a little like his notorious Dancing Jesus: Bailey observed that if you remove the cross from the typical images of Jesus’s crucifixion, it looks like he’s dancing, both taunting those who treat the image as sacred and rescuing it from the cynical way it has been deployed to exercise power.)
In Landscapes with a Twist, he explores the way power is wielded in the seemingly innocuous traditions of landscape painting. The three obvious genres at work in these new images – landscape painting, renaissance art and pop art – are layered on top of each other.
You have to view each through the filter of the other. The superimposed silkscreen prints disrupt the way we look at the landscapes. The ghostly image of a Christ or Madonna figure provides commentary on the Western artistic conventions through which we look at landscape paintings, and by extension, landscapes themselves.
The fact that the Da Vincis are pop art Da Vincis, more familiar through reproduction, adds another layer of commentary about pop culture’s way of turning deities into celebrities and celebrities into deities, and perhaps how sacred art, landscape art and trashy media are inter-implicated. And the way we look at all three is thrown into disarray: it might be a well-travelled issue in South African art, but Bailey’s treatment is, at least, his own.
Who said pop will eat itself? Bailey gets to have his landscape and eat it.
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