There is something afoot … head, tooth and nail, in the work of Liam Gerrard. Beautiful, brutal, and unflinching visages arise out of black dust, taking form through lost rituals of conjuring. With deft and sensitive acuity Gerrard calls forth visions which unveil subject matter that communes and conspires in tightly bound references and loosely flayed allusions. For the viewer, there is that which is seen and that which is not, and in between lies the slumber of revelation that rouses and rumbles when the most unlikely of unions are made.
Over the years Gerrard has created finely detailed charcoal and graphite drawings that ride on the ever-mounting raft of source material available to contemporary image makers. Animals, arcane objects, cultural icons, entertainers, historical figures, political leaders, sporting stars, rogues and rebels. But what lurks beneath the surface of these often dark, humourous and arresting renderings? Gerrard draws our attention to the complexities of the image amalgam and the resonant consequences when associated meanings are pile-driven with purpose to the surface of the paper.
Soil and Salt (2017), his most recent exhibition, is comprised of works that cast stoic maidens of yore amid atmospheric and preternatural settings. Who are these women? Where and when are they from? At first glance the works might evoke a sense of nostalgia for an art of the past, inherited photographs, someone once known. Look a little closer: this is no mere wistful jaunt down memory lane. The impression that these works are a revision of Victorian or Edwardian-era portraits soon fades, sharply contrasted in the gnarling, obscured and symbolic nature of the misty settings each haunted phantasm emerges from.
There is something at once alluring and unsettling about these images that somehow attracts and repulses via equivocal means. In Maw (2017) and Pale on Pale (2017) these hidden apparitions coalesce as something more primal and mysterious, forever trapped in a flux of bloom and decay, unfurling out of the dim light between night and day. Hypnos (2017) and Go on, Stay Low (2017) sit avoidant and defiant, each possessed by an earthy essence and ancient power, beckoning the viewer closer in seductive and sinister ways.
The working title for Soil and Salt was ‘Carrion Flowers,’ referring to a genera of plants, also known as Corpse Flowers, which emit an odour like rotting flesh. While most varieties attract flies and beetles as pollinators, there are some that trap insects to make certain that pollen is gathered and transferred. As direct as this reference may seem, Gerrard arrived at the title via the aesthetic and sonic sensibilities of the track by same name by American musician Chelsea Wolfe. As a musician himself and fan of the heavier genres of rock music, Gerrard subtly draws from the well of associated idiosyncratic album covers, tee shirt graphics and music videos. What flourishes when these influences are married with art historical tropes is a type of Promethean evolution.
If you were to ask where he gets his ideas from Gerrard might quip “an old shop in Pokeno, they do a roaring trade in pigs heads out the front and little-known ideas out the back.” This of course would be a puckish reply for what are undoubtedly innate abilities and involved processes, the likes of which trawl and sprawl the vastness of historic and contemporary paradigms. From artists’ studios, to band rehearsal spaces, to gymnasium locker rooms, to student radio booths, to TAB pubs, to media portrayals, to the internet – grimly beautiful and tragically funny things can be found in dark corners. By combining an acute awareness to the possibilities of the image, other art forms, his interests and experiences, Gerrard flips the familiar and obscure with an enviable assuredness which plays out like a game of hustled heads and tails.
A penny for your thoughts? Or perhaps one for the ferryman on the silent ride over.
Essay by Kenneth Merrick
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