Conor Harrington ‘Dead Meat’ by Nicolas Epstein: Lazarides – ends 12th April 2012
Conor Harrington: No Shadow, photography Ian Cox and © the artist and Lazarides.
It’s the first Thursday of March, 7pm. First Thursdays are always a prime opportunity to see art in London with a vast array of new openings and vernissages across the East End of the city. But tonight the London scenesters have shifted their focus to Soho in the west. The area, better known for its LGBT scene than fine art, is host to a few niche galleries who are profitable enough to pay the zone’s immense rent prices. One such gallery (see also: empire) is Lazarides Inc, which rose to prominence after launching Banksy’s career and now houses a venerable stable of up and coming talent. Tonight, the masses are lined up to see Conor Harrington’s new work.
Conor Harrington: Three Wise Men, photography Ian Cox and © the artist and Lazarides.
I join the long cue. Conor who? Harrington: an artist who blends ‘street’ art and ‘high’ art sensibilities. The inside is shoulder to shoulder with at least four security guards protecting eight large-scale paintings and a wall of smaller studies. The added precaution adds to the perceived value of the works on display. The walls have been painted a charcoalish brown to increase luminance while the white skirting board underlines their importance. Harrington is immediately visible and surrounded by admirers. Murphy’s has been added to the open bar as a nod to his Irish heritage. Whispers abound that the show is completely sold out, a great feat in today’s nervous economy. Even better, Harrington is taking commissions to fulfill the wishes of Laz’s clientele who couldn’t buy in early enough.
Conor Harrington: Shadow, photography Ian Cox and © the artist and Lazarides.
Indeed, the night has all the makings of a perfect commercial opening: crowds, hype, business hype, the aura of exclusivity, models on hand to pose for photos with paintings they sat for. Entrants to the show move to the second floor where more of the Laz family of artists are being shown alongside Harrington’s canvases. Those lucky enough to make it to the back room that is the third floor salivate over a custom made invader meeting table, original Bansky paintings and, of all things a gallery could house, a private hair salon.
Although Harrington is now intermeshed in the “street art” movement and privileged enough to be under the reputable masthead that is the Lazarides brand. It would be smug to say that the artist’s work is a product of his representative’s prestige. In reality it stands in a league of its own. His pictures are impossible to place which adds to their appeal. Instead, they borrow techniques, mediums and motifs from across the modern history of Western painting adding difficulty for those who try to classify their contents. Victorian clad characters are sourced from the artist’s inner circle of friends. Forms and patterns appear and reappear at random. Staring at the mix the onlooker is blessed with a formidable chaos and a pleasing correspondence. The fine-tuned animation of James Rosenquist’s cartoon like characters is complemented/complicated by aerosol tags, the calligraphy of the streets.
Conor Harrington: Strange Fruit , photography Ian Cox and © the artist and Lazarides.
Take for example Strange Fruit. The black skin/white skin dynamic between the classical nude and her accomplice mirrors Manet’s Olympia. Meanwhile, the precisely executed floral and fruit arrangement and the exquisite reflective sheen of the metallic vessels resembles compositions of early Dutch still-life painters such as Willem Kalf. But these comparisons lose their luster when contemplating the work in its entirety. Its as if Harringon has imposed his own purposeful defacement, scratching away the figure of the man while tagging the upper left quadrant. The result, a unique combinative canvas and one that is fitting for todays remix culture.
Such praise could be met with criticism. Old school purists of figurative painting would argue that their craft is being defiled, misused, underused or misinterpreted. Meanwhile, street artists who work in alleyways and building tops may shake their heads at graffiti’s coalescence in high art form and in the high art alcove of Lazarides’ shop. Perhaps it would be more productive for these parties to stay positive. Harrington’s realistic figures reinvigorate “classical” modes of painting. Concurrently, street art sensibility is enhanced through his well painted characters. Personally, I tip my hat to Harrington for a well illustrated series and see Dead Meat as both a stylish and sophisticated accomplishment.
11 Rathbone Place,
London W1T 1HR
Tel: 0207 636 5443
Open : Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 7pm.
Admittance : Free