Deserted streets and the walking dead: the end of capitalism as dreamed in our collective imagination…
Sumer is pleased to present Zombies Everywhere, its first physical exhibition since reopening post lockdown. The exhibition features recent work by Yolunda Hickman (Auckland) and Michael Kennedy (Melbourne).
The exhibition brings together the work of two young artists that in varying ways, provide prisms through which one views a world, ugly and absurd; a world for which we unwittingly find ourselves part. These are works are not for sense-making but for something altogether different.
In her expansive series Clearings (2019–2020) shown here, Hickman creates works from layer upon layer of end-of-line novelty print fabrics. Laser-cut stencils of horses, eagles, leopards and fish enmesh and co-mingle with underlying prints that often, but not always, feature the very same subject. The effect of this visual cacophony is jarring and discordant. Operating optically in a manner what has been defined as ‘signal and noise’: wherein the signal provides meaningful information, and the noise disrupts, interferes and confuses such understanding. The image is at once affirmed and negated. And furthermore, on a cultural level the works are equally jarring. These prints were never tasteful or sophisticated, they were always deeply kitsch. Cheap and basic offerings which occupied a low-cost market for the handicrafts hobbyist; presumably the doting grandmother to work into quilts for their grandchildren’s beds. In their original intended use, these figurative prints unequivocally provide clear narrative meaning; furthermore, they would have been often used to aid in affirming notions of fixed gender roles (i.e. horses for the little cowboy, butterflies for the little princess); views which sit uneasily with contemporary ideals. Hickman knows this and plays to it; they are deliberately maddening. The images fall apart—unravelled, disturbed, ruptured and brutalised. Good taste be damned.
Kennedy too makes paintings which very much play to a sense of kitsch, but with an all together different intent and outcome. His paintings are constructed as if they were cake. Acrylic paint, in an array of lurid colours, are one at a time slapped on thickly and unsparingly. (Indeed the edges of the works have a texture which appears akin to that of buttercream icing.) And atop this confection, the artist has carefully traced an array of logo text, cartoon characters and icons; some being immediately recognisable, while others are less apparent. The logo texts include band names (From First to Last, Cradle of Filth, My Chemical Romance), basic descriptors of the work (“acrylic on canvas”), or simple qualitative remarks such as “good painting”, or the generously spirited, “enjoy this painting”; but principally the works are decorated with text variants of the artists’ own first name; writ large, repeated over and over ad nauseam: “Michael, Michael, MICHAEL, michael, Michael”.
The jest of Kennedy’s paintings may appear as irony and thus insincere, but this is by no means the artist’s intent. The paintings, as he sees them, are light-hearted and humorous certainly, but they are very much autobiographical and honest in as much. They meld imagery gleaned from mass culture, most often from youth culture but also art history, and also from sources which are deeply personal: all of which he considers as representing his identity as a young person. He describes his experiences of growing up in small-town rural Victoria as a person of colour (his mother being Indian-Fijian and his father Anglo-Celtic Australian). Because of his appearance he was stigmatised, subjected to microaggression and racism. This experience coloured his perception of self. He found community and a sense of identity alongside other social misfits and like-minded individuals: the queer kids, the goth kids. These are images which we see within his paintings through the band logos, metal fonts and cartoon characters. Equally the palm tree, which many will likely presume to be a nod to painter Josh Smith, is rather an image which is taken from his childhood home. His mother, a screenprinter by trade, had these palms everywhere in the house—for they were something she associated with home. And while is he not opposed to comparisons to contemporary artists, his preference to speak of the more learned art historical references in his work: i.e. the reclining dolphin, repeated twice, which is his version of Édouard Manet’s Olympia (1863); or, alternately, the influence of his late father who was an enthusiastic and accomplished amateur painter.
Working across painting, sculpture and installation, Yolunda Hickman’s work has been shown at artist spaces and public galleries across New Zealand in recent years. A current showing highlight is Signal Forest (2019–2020), a major public sculpture commissioned 4Plinths project, located on Wellington waterfront, on display until 2022. She is the Acting Programme Director Master of Fine Arts, Whitecliffe, and is presently working towards the completion of her doctoral thesis at Elam School of Art, Auckland.
Michael Kennedy graduated at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2018 where he was the recipient of the Ursula Hoff Institute Inc Drawing and Painting Award. Since then he has undergone an artist in residence program at DÔ-SÔ AIR in Japan. His work has been shown with artists spaces in Australia and Japan. In addition to painting, he is a trained musician whose practice encompasses performance, video and sound.