Sunday, 22 January 2017
Just below the bang bang - Mark Joshua Epstein - Vane, Newcastle
"Mark Joshua Epstein explores a sense of the baroque through the lens of exuberant abstraction. Inherent in the paintings is a kind of dandy-aesthetic, as Epstein investigates modes for thinking about sexuality, uncoupled from its traditional association with corporeal desire. These works play with obfuscation and revealing, while teetering on the edge of taste. Colours are amped up, patterns delivered through the imperfect marks of the artist’s hand.
The title refers to a remark by British-Iranian journalist Christiane Amanpour on Radio 4’s . While discussing her work as a war correspondent, she explains that to survive, one must inhabit the space “just below the bang bang” – or, just below the gunfire. Within this idea Epstein sees a metaphor for the formal decisions in his own work, lurking just below the threat of disaster, nearly falling apart at a moment's notice. The forms in these works are piled, butted up against, leaning on – structures always on the verge of toppling over.
The metaphor grows with the current American political situation, in which the margin has rapidly become a more dangerous place to dwell. Suddenly questions arise about what kinds of lives will need to be lived in the shadows as threats to minority groups like the LGBTQ community escalate.
There is gayness lurking in Epstein’s recent abstract compositions. Unlike say, the hanky code, where a single colour denotes a particular sexual proclivity, his works are meant to be looked at for their combinations of colours – for their discordant , to borrow a phrase from fashion. He is far less interested in hues or patterns in isolation than he is in these elements forced together – layered, interrupted, obfuscated and otherwise occupying the same spaces. The work says to the viewer, take these elements together, or not at all.
The things Epstein makes are inspired by the revered and the crass – by the titans of geometric abstraction and by the cheap plastic tablecloths sold by the yard at dollar stores. In his studio practice there is no distinction between capital ‘A’ art, with its authoritarian stamp, and mass-produced (and mass-consumed) design, with its anonymous creators never getting to claim credit. The work celebrates all of it."