The line that first comes to mind when I view the work of Liam Gerrard is a well-worn Hollywood quotation, ‘You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!’ as uttered by an indignant Jack Nicholson in the film A Few Good Men (1992). Gerrard presents a realism that spits a similar sentiment. He apprehends our desire to ‘perve’ at aesthetically beautiful things and people by giving us a few truths we may struggle to look at; ugliness executed with absolute beauty. The artist presents immaculately crafted drawings and leaves us to our own eisegesis.
His image-making strategy cleverly creates absolute perfection. But his intent is to taint perfection in ways we can’t quite finger. He underpins beauty and death through a marriage of Gothic darkness and pop-icon stellar-brightness that totally munts up the readings of his extensive visual vocabulary. Debbie Harry becomes the poster girl for Satan and Frida Kahlo is set aside with her monkeys in a surreal type vignette. His works generate a similar feel to that in Georgia O’Keefe’sFrom the Faraway Nearby(1937) or Albrecht Durer’s MonstrousPig of Landser (1496): there is a lurking darkness in Gerrard's work that is simultaneously attractive and repulsive.
He makes his points succinctly with extraordinarily crisp clarity in the picture plane of white negative space. Quite contrary to what art educators in the 1970s and 80s taught about subject matter floating in a picture plane, Gerrard uses this pictorial strategy to undermine the formalism expected of a ‘trained’ fine artist. There is a hint of the bogan/metaller/tattoo drawing to each, but Gerrard’s images are intended to take us on a Hunter S. Thompson jaunt, not a sentimental journey. Charcoal is temperamental, frustrating to use and damn easy to smudge, so his ability to tame it solicits even more admiration of the surface; it’s his hook.
It is all too easy to apply our own rationales to an artist's work; so I am wary that whilst I write this, it is purely from a responsorial approach peppered with a long history of my own reading of icons. Gerrard isn't necessarily asking anything of anyone, but presenting us with an attractive image that is purposely sabotaged with hints of the occult and esoteric depth. The industry of beauty and the pursuit of it at all costs is what consumerism and hero worship is founded upon. Gerrard in this sense is iconoclastic in his desecration of popular cultural icons and political correctness. If anything can be eked out of the irreverence of his work, it is the certainty that everything is up for question by the artist.
Essay by Leafa Wilson
View exhibition »