Ashley Bickerton explores Bali’s “tropical apocalypse” – in pictures

Indonesia-based American artist Ashley Bickerton explores Bali life in his new series of paintings.

Gajah Gallery in Singapore is holding American artist Ashley Bickerton’s solo exhibition of new works from 26 April to 25 May 2014. The artist returns to the medium of painting to create provocative works that comment on his two-decade’s experience of life in Bali.

Ashley Bickerton, 'Sunday N-14 Atoll', 2014, mixed media on jute, 200 x 300 cm. Image courtesy Gajah Gallery.

Ashley Bickerton, ‘Sunday N-14 Atoll’, 2014, mixed media on jute, 200 x 300 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Junk Anthropologies” at Gajah Gallery features a new series of works by American Ashley Bickerton (b. 1959, Barbados). Since the 1980s in New York’s East Village, the artist has been associated to the Neo-Geo (Neo-Geometric Conceptualism) movement, together with Peter Halley, Jeff Koons and Meyer Vaisman.

Bickerton’s past work involved elaborate assemblages akin to deep-relief sculpture, made of digital photographs overlaid with found objects and heavy impasto.

Ashley Bickerton, "Junk Anthropologies", installation view at Gajah Gallery, Singapore. Image courtesy Gajah Gallery.

Ashley Bickerton, “Junk Anthropologies”, installation view at Gajah Gallery, Singapore. Image courtesy Gajah Gallery.

His exhibition in Singapore marks a conscious turn in the artist’s practice, as Bickerton reasserts himself as first and foremost a painter. The new body of work comprises finely polished painting on large canvases that put the focus on the images – rather than the artist – of vignettes of Bali’s “tropical apocalypse”. His works are largely inspired by his Balinese wife, Cherry Sarawasti, the subject and model in most of his paintings.

Ashley Bickerton, 'Temptation In The Banjar', 2014, mixed media on jute, 180 x 130 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Ashley Bickerton, ‘Temptation In The Banjar’, 2014, mixed media on jute, 180 x 130 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Approaching Gauguin

Having resided in Bali since 1993, Bickerton has experienced and observed radical changes in life on the island, witnessing what the press release calls “the ongoing corruption of this medieval agrarian society from the inside.”

Bickerton has long been inspired by Gauguin, who also experienced life in a remote tropical paradise – Tahiti. With the French painter, Bickerton also shares the disillusion provoked by this experience, which has uncovered the harsh reality behind the illusion of a tropical paradise. The artist weaves a dense web of ironies into his paintings, revealing truths about the transformations of a remote culture and its exploitation through colonisation and tourism.

Ashley Bickerton, '2 Women on Scooter with Matisse', 2014, mixed media on jute, 215 x 215 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Ashley Bickerton, ‘2 Women on Scooter with Matisse’, 2014, mixed media on jute, 215 x 215 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

The enigmatic work 2 C Wa E2 P.G. 2 Tb W carries its title written in bold crimson red on the lower left and right edges of the canvas. It is what Jamie James in the catalogue essay calls “an esoteric cipher” that can be deciphered as follows: “Two Cherries Warhol’s Double Elvis Paul Gauguin Two Tahitian/Balinese Women.” The 2 C (Two Cherries) refer to the artist’s wife (the model for the painting), the E2 to Andy Warhol’s Elvis 2 Times (1963).

vAshley Bickerton, '2CWaE2P.G.2TbW', 2014, mixed media on jute, 219 x 244 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Ashley Bickerton, ‘2CWaE2P.G.2TbW’, 2014, mixed media on jute, 219 x 244 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

The work is inspired by the use of double portraiture throughout art history, such as in the anonymous painting in the Louvre Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses sœurs (1954) and particularly Gauguin’s Two Tahitian Women (1899), evident in P.G. 2 Tb. Like in Gauguin’s painting, Bickerton evokes the dream of the untouched tropical paradise, while making references to the cruel disjunction between the vision of paradise and the reality of life in a poor tropical island. The painting thus functions as a Symbolic text.

Ashley Bickerton, 'Junk Anthropologies', 2014, mixed media on jute, 203 x 243 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Ashley Bickerton, ‘Junk Anthropologies’, 2014, mixed media on jute, 203 x 243 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Junk Anthropologies is dense with symbolism, including the ever-present shiny silver nude woman, a piglet dressed as if for a traditional Polynesian sacrifice, a white cockerel, a common sacrifice at Balinese ceremonies, a shaggy dog with a lei around its neck as an allusion to tourist beach culture, and a copy of Gauguin’s Tahitian Landscape figuring as a dream cloud.

Ashley Bickerton, 'Anyone With The Heretical Gall To Ask An Ironist What He Actually Stands For', 2014, mixed media on jute, 200 x 200 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Ashley Bickerton, ‘Anyone With The Heretical Gall To Ask An Ironist What He Actually Stands For’, 2014, mixed media on jute, 200 x 200 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

The Junk Anthropologies painting and the homonymous exhibition reference what Jamie James defines as

a traumatic reassignment of Bali as a luxury tourist destination, which has transformed a medieval agrarian society steeped in magical thinking into an international real-estate commodity, a process of deculturation that is almost complete; the Balinese have survived only by becoming internal refugees in their own land.

Ashley Bickerton, "Junk Anthropologies", installation view at Gajah Gallery, Singapore. Image courtesy Gajah Gallery.

Ashley Bickerton, “Junk Anthropologies”, installation view at Gajah Gallery, Singapore. Image courtesy Gajah Gallery.

More about the artist

Ashley Bickerton has exhibited in important institutions worldwide, including MoMA New York, the V&A in London and the Venice Biennale as a few examples. His works are part of collections such as MoMA New York, MoCA Los Angeles, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, among others.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: American artists, art in Bali, the art of painting, gallery shows, picture feasts, events in Singapore

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