NEW YORK | Ashley Bickerton calls his biomorphic abstractions of women “m-DNA.” That’s a reference to the “Mitochondrial Eve,” a scientific and mathematical theory in the field of genetics. The theory says that every living human being alive today descends from a single woman who lives in East Africa around 100,000 years ago. Through this maternal bloodline, we humans are linked. Bickerton refers to her as an “atheist Madonna.”
Bickerton, who lives and works in the Indonesian city of Bali, will put on display an interrelated series of bold, colorful portraits of women at Lehmann Maupin. He has been working on these women portraits for two years now. Bickerton’s fourth solo show at the gallery is on view at 201 Chrystie Street from September 11 to October 26, 2013. The artist will be present for an opening reception on Wednesday, September 11 from 6 to 8 PM.
Bickerton’s portraits of women are perhaps some of the most arrestingly conceptual since the women of Willem de Kooning. The exhibition is entitled “Mitochondrial Eve/Viral Mother.”
From the beginning of his career, Bickerton has challenged traditional art forms, following the lineage of conceptualists who have considered the potential of readymade objects and images in visual culture. In the early 80’s, he embarked on what has become a career-long process of experimenting with the hybridization of forms, materials and methods that blur boundaries between painting, sculpture and photography and the artwork as commodity. He has often oscillated between abstraction and figuration, always with a conceptual base, and increasingly is exploring the differences between representation in western and non-western cultures.
In his paintings from the last decade he has turned his attention more specifically to reimagining art historical genres including portraiture and landscape painting, while drawing inspiration from such artists as de Kooning, Andy Warhol, and many others.
In “Mitochondrial Eve/Viral Mother,” the paintings on display are based on sculpted figures of women he creates out of clay, marking a significant shift in his practice from working from live models. This decision has enabled Bickerton to begin with a far more abstracted figurative form as the root of his work, resulting in what he refers to as a form of “biomorphic abstraction.”
Adorned with globs of paint, seashells, cigarette necklaces, rotting food, flowers, insects and butterflies, the embellished clay busts are photographed from different angles, digitally manipulated using Photoshop, printed on canvas, which is mounted on either wood or fiberglass, and then finally reworked with layers of oil and acrylic paint to create truly hybrid art forms. Here Bickerton’s merging of figuration and abstraction comes to new levels: in m-DNA eve 3, for example, he has nearly obscured the image of the figure with impasto strokes of vibrant green, blue and yellow paint, blending the foreground and background until the model’s bulging, exaggerated features seemingly emerge from the camouflage.
In conjunction with these figurative paintings, Bickerton is exhibiting a selection of new sculptures for the first time. Like the “m-DNA” paintings, they begin with the artist’s clay figurative forms, which here are cast in metal and fiberglass and mounted on concrete bases. The sculptures reference the tradition of immortalizing subjects stemming back to antiquity while taking inspiration from art history, fashion, popular media, cultural anthropology and even pornography. In doing so, Bickerton challenges and complicates accepted standards of beauty across Eastern and Western cultures. Having moved to Bali in 1993, the artist’s geographic position has influenced his work in form, content and critical approach. With his unique island perspective, he is at times self-mocking in his style and often incorporates overtly wild color, as well as references to craft and island culture into his sculpture and painting.
The exhibition also includes a group of new, large-scale abstract “paintings” comprised of layers of paint and photographs merged with three-dimensional forms that highlight the hybridity of materials and processes the artist has come to be known for in his recent works. Here Bickerton incorporates fiberglass molds cast from heavily modeled clay forms, and affixes photographs of the surface of the paintings themselves. Also included in the show are a group of Bickerton’s colorful “landscapes” that are covered by three-dimensional “eyeballs”. These “eyes” are handmade in resin with manipulated digital irises and pupils, based on images found in a range of printed materials, from touristic postcards to representations of artistic masterpieces. These works are displayed in elaborate carved wooden frames with mother of pearl inlay, a reference to the handmade craft typically found in island culture where Bickerton lives and a nod to his ongoing fusion of cultural and artistic sensibilities.
Ashley Bickerton (b. 1959, Barbados, West Indies) graduated from the California Institute of the Arts in 1982 and continued his education in the Independent Studies Program (ISP) at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. A seminal figure in the East Village scene of the 1980s, Bickerton has been associated with the “Neo-Geo” approach to art making. For the last 20 years, he has been living in Bali, an environment that has influenced his art making in distinctive ways and enabled him to investigate new ideas of culture and beauty.
Bickerton’s work has been included in exhibitions in museums around the world, including the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2012); Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2012); Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2011); New Museum, New York (2010); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2010); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2006), among others. He has also been included in prominent international biennales, among them the 9th Biennale of Sydney, Australia (1992); the 44th Venice Biennale (1990); and the 1989 Whitney Biennial. His work is included in the collections of Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, among others.
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