Liam Gerrard is a universal image maker. His drawings hold within them an entire possibility, both of the familiar and the utterly unknown. He draws upon a visual language that is ordinary, almost to the point of banality. Until you look closer. Floral arrangements hold dark secrets, fabled creatures are contextualised into a modern dialogue, and the repugnant turns sweet. Gerrard is an alchemist, forever transforming commonality into something precious, and sometimes inherently sinister.
On first inspection we are drawn slowly and enticingly into the image, presented as we are with lyrical illustrations of flowers (Flower Hair, 2015), pug dogs (Wolf Pug, 2014), and beloved celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe (Mazza, 2013). Eventually, we glimpse what lurks beneath, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A gnarled hand, a very human jawbone, a playful lock of hair ascends through the haze of floral arrangements. The gleeful pug is fact an amalgamation of savage wolves, and Debbie Harry a satanic tusked ogre straight out of Dante’s Inferno. On one hand it is serene splendour; on the other, uneasy trepidation. Like a sculptor of stone, the naked surface of paper holds a quivering potential for Gerrard to unearth the concealed image within it.
Gerrard is a brother Grimm, and like the German myth-makers and authors, he weaves Gothic fables from the contemporary lexicon; his images are known to us before we see them, hiding in plain sight. Through a laborious process of drawing Gerrard breathes pictorial life into our ‘Collective Unconscious’.
Carl Jung first described the notion of the ‘CollectiveUnconscious’ in his 1916 essay ‘The Structure of the Unconscious’. Jung, a former protégée and colleague of Sigmund Freud, rallied against the popular psychological theories of Freud to develop an idea of an all-encompassing human mythology. Human collective unconscious is populated by symbols such as water, The Tree of Life, The Shadow, The Tower, The Great Mother, etc, thus blanketing all cultures and peoples into one interwoven web of subconscious connectedness.
Liam Gerrard is a hand that draws upon this universality. Through his painstakingly fashioned drawings he pulls us into a world both of his own creation, and one that we are intimately, subconsciously, familiar with.
The 2015 work Frankie is an apt illustration of Gerrard’s biting wit and awareness. The viewer is confronted eye-to-eye with an image of Mary Shelley’s infamous monster Frankenstein, framed in a pretty wreath of flowers, and sporting a traditional Maori Ta Moko. To us Frankenstein is as familiar as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, or Hairy Maclary; an anthropomorphic form calculatingly created to make the un-human increasingly human. The monstrous becomes one of us through the Ta Moko – a profound gesture of scarification, willingly performed and received, to display a weighty empathy and lineage to a history and people.
Although Gerrard’s mark-making is not deliberately violent, often his images are. Hybrids of beauty and gore, adoration and oddity are mainstays in his practice. It’s not the ‘Shock of the New’ he’s interested in; it’s the shock of what has come before, of history.
Gerrard is a gleaner of culture, and our most primal of visual languages. He makes the increasingly complex somehow comprehendible, and unearths images of profound profanity, beauty, complexity, diversion, and universality. He is at once a myth-maker, a visual archaeologist, and a witty prankster with a penchant for subversion.
Essay by Andy Gomez
Born: 1984, Auckland
Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts, Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland
Awards/Distinctions: Adam Portraiture Awards - Finalist (2010)
Public Exhibitions: ArtDEGO, Artweek Auckland, The Nathan Club (2012); O’Neill: 60 Years of Innovation Global Tour, Worldwide (2012); Game On, Hastings City Art Gallery (2011); Adam Portraiture Awards, The New Zealand Portrait Gallery, Wellington (2010); Through the Looking Glass, Uxbridge Creative Centre, Auckland (2010)
Articles: ‘The Right Head Space’ by Fiona Ralph, Viva, Feb 2015; ‘Visions of life and mortality’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Feb 2015; ‘Surreal portraits of familiar faces’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Apr 2014;‘Beginner’s Luck’, Denizen, Issue 8, Spring 2013, pg 32; ‘Startling & Surreal’ by Sophie Burton, Denizen, Issue 6, Autumn 2013, pg 44; ‘An ocean of talent’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Jul 2012; ‘A Necessary Evil’ by Will Pollard, Presence, Nov 2012; ‘Hazy space obscures its artists’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, May 2011; ‘Artist/Musician/Metalhead’ by Fiona Ralph, No Magazine, Issue 10, Winter 2010, pg 106; ‘Project’ conversation with Paul Flynn, Artist Profile, 2010, Issue 11, pg 130; ‘Talent Show’ by Rose Hoare and Sarah Murray, Sunday, May 2010, pg 21