Sunday 30 September 2012

BAEL: Beautiful Monsters


The remanufactured bullshit of such labels in society - of those defacing constructions imposed upon human identity - are no longer important. 

At least not in the world of fine artist Michael Bell, who goes by the suitably mysterious and somewhat primordial pseudonym of "BAEL". Mr. Bael has wiped the slate clean of his figures; cleansed them of life's suffocating and compromising 'titles'. Instead, his subjects have regressed (or progressed?) to a collection of raw humanoids, naked in a world where gender, race, sexuality, religion no longer define humanity; where "purity" and "essence" of being finally have their meanings reinstated. 

Here the human body is stripped in favour of a brutally visceral exploration of deep human emotion. Initial impressions? Well, if I was totally honest I'd say that I can't stop seeing that terrifying Cyborg Ninja from the Metal Gear Solid franchise. It's that anthropomorphism, the confluence between animal and human which tinges these pieces with the horror of classic sci-fi monsters - those which, rather chillingly, have their essence bred in human biology.

In any case, these pieces are positively haunting and disturbing. The figures are like ethereal apparitions from a nightmare, projections of our most deeply repressed fears and anxieties. What intrigues me about these subjects is just how vivid they are despite such a crucial lack of physical information. At first sight they give the impression of being rendered through quick, rough etching marks in a similar vein to Egon Schiele - everything appears so suggestive and enigmatic. Yet despite being so puzzlingly minimal, these figures offer more emotional truth; have more substance and presence than a dense photorealistic representation of the human form.

While Bael has asserted his artistic determination to avoid making his viewers feel "comfortable" and "satisfied" (and I do indeed feel moderately freaked out when I consider his pieces for too long) - I still think there's something redemptive and liberating to be drawn from his figurative work. In their reductive starkness, these oddly feral creatures look to a Prelapsarian time (a future?), with human identity unspoiled by the pangs of contemporary society. No longer is physical aestheticism a fragile target for scrutiny and anxiety; now it serves as a mere vessel through which the artist can explore the greater importance of human emotion.

And through Bael's provocative use of vermilions, the nature of those emotions are pretty clear. His faces are suspiciously bloodied, with mouths pinned or scratched out that amplify the certain lack of human civilisation here. More and more we err on the side of animalism with Bael, his figures found lurking, stalking, crouching - generally looking threatening and diabolical. The monochrome offset only by the blood lines and fills truly exemplify these characters as possessing nothing but unbridled, fiery emotions: hot, aggressive sexuality; youthful angst and violence bubbling beneath the molten surface. 

The piece above, entitled 'Cons', is my favourite work from Bael. For me it encapsulates everything the artist is trying to articulate. Stained with the metaphorical blood on its hands, the figure appears like a new-born, caught in a existentialist moment of self-discovery and disgust at the revelation of its own being - of those base desires of human identity which come to define it more truthfully than any other. 

Don't kid yourself.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Chloe Early: 9/11 in Disney Land

Now, in the normal way I would copy every other overzealously polite blogger and apologise for my delay in posting new material. No; I haven't been recently hospitalised and no, I haven't been occupied by a family bereavement. In any case, what I have to show you next is worth the wait. If you're like me and have an insatiable appetite for bittersweet art, then I present you with 9/11 debris decorated in a lush Garden of Eden:

At least that's what I see. Mind-fuck? And what a great one. The artist behind the brutal chaos is Chloe Early who, according to her blog, quite plainly and innocently "Paints Pictures". Clearly not as innocent as she professes. Early works with disconcerting yet gripping juxtapositions: exuberant and abundant nature framed by harsh and suspiciously posited airplane engines - callously discarded and reassembled in the aftermath of a mysterious tragedy. 

Everywhere you look there's an explosion of bold colour that suggests life and vitality and liberation, but it's always muddied by an undercurrent of violence bubbling beneath the surface, or by a triad of missiles delicately descending at the bottom of the artist's canvas. So while at first sight you may imagine Early's suspended figures to be falling in blissful oblivion, there's a more troubling ambiguity here. 

Her central subjects - of which there is usually a pair - seem frozen in time and space, locked in some dream-like fantasy which anaesthetises them to the barbarity inflicted upon them. As mentioned, these airplane turbines almost take on a new, diabolic identity in Early's contrived arrangement of them, as if to echo the sick trivialisation of tragedies like 9/11 by manic pop references in the media.

Early's religious undertones here are clear, but if these landscapes are indeed alluding to a spiritual realm, the question I ask myself is: Where are these figures going? Are they angels falling or ascending to Heaven? Are they infinitely and indefinitely spinning in space? Or perhaps they are being exhibited in the most explicit sense: innocent victims falling from an obliterated aircraft...

There are certainly sniffs of Micallef's 'Disney Torture Porn' aesthetic here (research it if you think I've coined that term out of clinical pervertedness). It's that concoction of flowery lightheartedness bled with the fumes of a morbid utopia that works so well. It transmits doubt into the viewer's eye; tips the prospect of escapism into a nihilistic post-apocalyptic world (and vice versa). 

Early is a master of decontextualising and recontextualising iconography, with a keen eye for subverting images of celebration; we have Micky Mouse mingled with bullet shells laced with roses, patterning a memorial that evokes the insanity of war's warped realities. In fact, in their ordered presentation and arrangement, these pieces have the seductive scent of glossy magazine covers, as if beneath the chaos lurks a subtly packaged symphony of false ideals.

Wake up and smell the debris.