Editioned Artists’ Poster Prints

FROM THE STREET TO YOUR SPACE…

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ISLAND MENTALITY
We are extremely pleased to announce the seventh artist to take part in the flyingleaps project is Marcus Harvey.

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The Island (2017) Ceramic on Ink Jet Print

Since graduating from Goldsmiths in 1986 Harvey has produced a phenomenal body of work. A reoccurring concern of the artist is an examination and re-presentation of the symbols that arguably inform and define a decidedly British cultural consciousness.

Football, maritime history, infamous historical and political figures – ranging from Myra Hindley, Punch, Nelson, Churchill to Thatcher and Blair – the White Cliffs of Dover, Ann Summers and Readers’ Wives, dodgy wallpaper, Blue Peter, seaside souvenirs, scraps of architectural heritage, joke shop tat… Often in uneasy combination these elements are mashed together again and again in such a way as to disinter facets of our island mentality. In a sense when viewing Harvey’s work we are confronted with the underbelly of that psychological state which is convinced of its own superiority and exceptionalism compared with other communities and nations. This, of course, is an ever more pertinent subject for consideration in the wake of Brexit and the anti-foreigner sentiments being peddled across the globe.

It’s worth repeating that Myra (1995) wasn’t a spurious attempt to shock – it languished in Harvey’s studio pretty much unremarked upon for two years before the Sensations show – rather the work was conceived as a manifestation of the Tabloid Press’ obsession with Hindley. Long before Harvey reproduced this mug shot the Press had already fixed and fetishised this portrait of ‘pure evil’ in the mind’s eye of British publics. Publics plural because in the socially turbulent 1960s, that Myra Hindley personified evil really was one of the few things a broad spectrum of British society actually could agree upon. The ratty bouffant, sunken eyes and cracked, harsh black cupid’s bow lips: the photograph of Hindley became through repetition an archetypal symbol of deviance, or much worse than that, female deviance. A betrayal of all that’s ‘natural, maternal, decent…’

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Skull (2006)

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Maggie (2009)

But we know, of course, there is no ‘natural’. Reflections of our culture’s moral compass and of our place in the world are constructed. This work of construction occurs at a personal level, a result of familial and social experience but it is also manufactured, often in a malign way by the media, and co-opted by political discourse to screw national debate towards thinking and actions that support a narrow, self-serving establishment agenda.

For those only familiar with Harvey’s work because of the protests engendered by the RA 1997 exhibition of his Myra portrait it’s worth taking another look at the artist’s incredibly varied output. The range of materials and styles employed by this iconologist of British culture and behaviour is stunning. In tandem with an examination of what’s socially significant is a thoroughgoing immersion in art history: there’s an engagement with cubism, not least in the billowing sails of Harvey’s galleons; both a celebration and refutation of expressionism in his Readers’ Wives and the ongoing series of Glass Paintings; riveting excursions into assemblage that elicit both wonder and guffaws; the ‘mosaic’ portraits – what Harvey refers to as his ‘two-and-half dimensional works – made from acerbic and poignant ephemera as well as a thoughtful questioning of the primacy of the photographic image, the hold that photo.s have on our psyche and their myriad role in visual culture.

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Myra (1995)

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The English Cemetery (2016)

It’s not so much that enlightenment thinking was/is flawed. Rather it was the myopia of the ‘democratic’ moderns or rather privileged western elites who failed to notice that ‘freedom, liberty, equality’ was extended only to a minute portion of educated, relatively well-off individuals. The great swathe of ‘minority’ populations the world over never did share in the economic or cultural benefits promised from the dawn of egalitarianism right the way through to 60s counter-cutural idealism. It’s not that the ideals of freedom and equality – as represented and hard won by feminism, anti-racism, anti-imperialists, etc. – poisoned any hope of societal equilibrium THOSE IDEALS NEVER BECAME A REALITY FOR ENOUGH PEOPLE IN THE FIRST PLACE. And now Britain, the island, has separated itself off more emphatically and the dream of a comprehensive progressive, tolerant alliance drifts ever further off. Pretty much as we drift – or rather are incompetently steered – into a stormy and uncertain future. Thanks to Marcus Harvey we have an exquisite rendering of this new and anxious situation in which we find ourselves.