Sunday 21 July 2013

Voids of Liminality: Michal Janowski

The individual is everything yet appears nowhere. 

The ravenous pursuit of eminence leads him to nothing but bloated egocentrism and stunted human identity. We regress into tribesmen as we disconnect from society and hunt like blind animals to acquire the dream that won’t make us happier. 

I first discovered the arresting work of Michal Janowski through Signal, a London gallery that has already provided me with an exciting roster of artists to review. I’m a big fan of anthropomorphism, elements of which I have started to include in my own work and which is of course being executed so well by Signal’s very own success story Joram Roukes. But Janowski employs his beasts in a more confronting way that forges a very direct relationship with the viewer. 

These are portraits depicting a new human identity. Janowski is holding up a harsh and disconcerting mirror here. At first you develop a sympathetic connection with these raw, faceless figures, as they stare back with the desperate angst and hopelessness of someone – or something, enslaved. Yet Janowski denies his subjects full human identity; they are neither completely human nor wholly animal and as such we are magnetised by the tension of these figures that appear in a constant state of flux; everywhere and nowhere - lost and abandoned in an ambiguous void of liminality. 

That tension is heightened by the figurative nature of his subjects and the abstract backdrops against which they are set. It’s as if Janowski teases the viewer with scraps of reality, only to have them warped by these monstrous hybrids and their origins that remain forever unknown. 

And there is another level to all this when you look at Janowski’s captivating titles which are almost works of art in themselves: ‘Shape Shifting as Favourite Method of Deception’, ‘Trickster; Shaman of the Liminal’, ‘The Assassin of Fake Sanity’* (an unforgettable favourite). Janowski leads us to fawn over his curious subjects that are in fact aggressive and hostile reflections of our own debased nature. ‘Permanent Liminality’, one of Janowski’s more experimental pieces quite literally oozes a psychedelic hyperreality, as the face of a human subject appears to spoil beneath the bleeding mask of a cat.

Janowski thus presents us with ‘shape shifters’, ‘tricksters’, ‘shamans’ of the liminal world: deceptive spirits of another universe that are harbingers of both reality and illusion. And yet these entities are precisely us: we are the abstract monsters masquerading as humans in our perpetual greed, hypocrisy and primal destructiveness. The ‘assassin of fake sanity’ is the subconscious version of ourselves as we indulge in the masochistic fantasy of a world that is not real, not true, and not sane. It’s a beautiful device from the artist that lures the viewer into more self-reflexive territory than a photorealistic rendering ever could. 

Michal Janowski’s work is available at Signal Gallery 

Sunday 30 June 2013

Upcoming Exhibition: 'Memorabilia'

I will be exhibiting both existing and new work at the Memorabilia Charity Art Exhibition (Sat 6th & Sun 7th July 2013) curated by Carne Griffiths in support of Great Ormond Street Hospital. 30% of all sales will go to GOSH charity. Get your skin down there for an all star cast featuring artwork inspired by nostalgia and childhood memories.

Facebook event page


Tuesday 4 June 2013

Cages of Expectation: Sandra Chevrier

I love art that makes me hate myself.

Art that, in the hunt and hysteria of discovering something new, magnetises the lustful viewer and numbs him to the artist’s hidden message imbued within. If you aren’t already numbed by the pretentiousness of that introduction, let me explain what I mean. Art works when art makes you fall in love with it for the wrong reasons. Not because its subject matter is evil, but because you – the mortal civilian – you fell for the trick of appearance. In an age saturated by image, the enchanting magic of what we see all too often leads us astray from the harsh reality of what is.

Whilst absent-mindedly wading through Juxtapoz in an attempt to track down my next artist for review, Montreal-based painter Sandra Chevrier caught my attention like she’d physically climbed through my MacBook monitor, wrenched out my eyeballs and escaped back into the vortex of the internet forever. If you’re aware of my own work which has veered more recently into the realm of mixed media collaged faces, you might understand why. Consumed in the moment by the enduring beauty of Chevrier’s work I was anaesthetised to what the work was actually trying to say. I was reminded of my own ability to fall for the trick of superficial illusions to which we all fall victim in today’s society. It was only after closer inspection, having thoroughly unpicked the meaning of Chevrier’s paintings, that I realised I had reacted purely at the sight of an artist whose work I thought might be deemed ‘cool’ – shoot me.

Now, I stick by that – Chevrier’s work is fucking cool. But her work is so aesthetically striking that it’s difficult to drag yourself away from the lure of the outer and get you hands dirty with the grit of the inner. Reminiscent of the arresting superhero aesthetic employed in previously covered artist, Lora Zombie, this is what makes this great art: Chevrier’s work demands to be dissected.

Chevrier’s collaged portraits are torn, quite literally, between the superimposed cuttings of fantastical comic book humour and the harsh, underlying tragedy of oppressed female identity. Chevrier imagines her female figures inside society’s incarcerating “Cages” of expectation that forces them to live up to a superheroic image. The comic-book collage, at once bold and alluring echo rather entertaining pop-art references, yet upon closer scrutiny we realise the bitter irony that these plastered female faces are silenced, blinded and smothered by the very images that seduce us into their existence.

It’s a brilliant, deceptively simple device that speaks to our cyber-induced, brainwashed inability to view women through nothing but pornographic eyes; an agonising, paradoxical truth that both denies and validates female identity. There’s a sense of torturous struggle as the images encroach on the figure's ability to see. If the women aren’t blinded entirely by Chevrier's collage, their jailed stares are vacant – weak – defeatist; a quiet and tragic resigned acceptance perhaps, that their gendered identity goes no deeper than the image of society’s superficial, fetishized mask strapped to their faces.

The collage, which often features epic and dramatic battle scenes taken from real comic book magazines, is applied rather haphazardly, yet this somewhat incongruous style of application, with fictional characters that reaches an almost theatrical level, only enhances the message of the chaotic and farcical pressures placed upon women to perform superheroic deeds in society. It's a very astute angle from Chevrier, because in a cultureless society bent on teaching our young to aspire to the lie of celebrity, the artist perfectly satirises the ludicrousness of unrealistic expectations and unattainable dreams.

Catch Chevrier's work at her next show at Phone Booth Gallery in Long Beach, CA, USA in August.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

A Plague Upon Us All: Marco Mazzoni

A plague is upon us.

 It punctures, penetrates; smothers, suffocates; a curse induced by the 'viral' invasions of 21st century life. The ability to visualise and see with our own eyes is refracted by the chaotic distractions of modern existence and the relentless infestation of new social media, all topped off by the hateful irony (go on, call it hypocrisy) that I vent these words from my Blogger blog - words which shall later be spread via the contagions of Facebook, Twit...I feel sick.

 Milan-based artist Marco Mazzoni has himself seen his exquisite glowing coloured pencil drawings spread like a pandemic thanks to the indomitable power of Tumblr, and whilst many other articles have chosen to simply regurgitate Mazzoni's respectable manifesto that his art "weaves a world based on Italian folklore, focusing on the female figures who, according to Sardinian beliefs, seduce, enchant, curse, and heal", Mazzoni's images are so saturated with intelligent metaphors to tell a story that to limit his work to such lazy and predictable responses ("Oh, it's all about nature, and like...repressed women?") is frankly an insult.

Yes - I see cycles of Nature, medicinal plants and pollinator birds drinking nectar, but I also see a Hitchcockian nightmare of humanity at the mercy of Mother Nature; I see the phallic stems reminiscent from the Edenic jungle of artist Carne Griffiths - yet here they are employed in a much more disturbing and pressing context: when a faceless figure appears to be submitted to an act of aggressive floral deep-throating, we may position that figure as potential 'victim'. Equally, there is the almost crawly sense of parasitic infiltration here - the human laid host to the blooming of some foreign organism at the expense of its own life.

There is a deceptive, violent sexuality to these pieces which is so perfectly balanced by Mazzoni's magical, fantastical colour palette and the sensuousness of his overall compositions that it is hard to ascertain whether these impossible creatures offer protection and decorative embellishment or a diabolical, pathogenic hi-jacking of the human body. Indeed, there is the horrifying sense of mankind utterly enslaved to the monstrous forces of the physical world here: either blinded by feathers or eyeless entirely, Mazzoni's figures are deprived of identity, as we are left desperately seeking a soul within an infinite void of what is either white-hot or death-black.

With his seductive female figures - perhaps femme fatales - laced with floral imagery and mythic creatures, it is easy to concentrate on the 'traditional' qualities of Mazzoni's work. But for me, there is something peculiarly modern and updated - dare I say 'fashionable' - about his aesthetic which inspires me to interpret his work in the symbolic context of more modern issues. For me, Mazzoni's hallucinatory scenes conjure a very real and present world plagued by paranoia, excess and violence; a world where relentless consumption has led to the consumption of the self and humanity is turned inside out in this peacock display of grotesque and sadistic absurdism. Nothing of the self is left but a blank white canvas patch where sight once existed.

Friday 12 April 2013


It's 2013 and I have finally mustered up the courage/arrogance to launch an official Jonny Burt Art Facebook page.  I will be posting and documenting all updates from there whilst also resuming blogging here about a wealth of fresh and exhilarating emerging artists from across the globe.

If you have followed the movement thus far and like the work I do, please make that 'like' a reality by pledging just 1 'Like' on the Facebook page. I will pay you all back in free artwork once I'm famous. And that's a promise. For now, it's all love.

Thank you for the support,

Jonny x