In Zander Blom’s Paintings and Posters, the artist’s move away from formal abstraction in favour of figuration in a newer sketchier style. In this experimental process he has leaned heavily on the textbook, creating a body of work which seems to both manifestly admire and cock a snook at the powerhouses of Late Modernism from Matisse to Mondrian.
Blom situates himself squarely within the chronology of art history. He documents his artistic antecedents through posters and paintings of their works, showing viewers where exactly he fits into this largely male and Western art historical canon. As a scion of this group he then rebels in a remarkably early-teen-flavoured way (think gleefully carving obscenities onto desks).
The titular posters occupy a sizeable wall as one enters Stevenson and, as such, act as a prelude to the series of large scale paintings. This forty strong array of museum gift-shop reproductions has been graffiti-ed, and collaged with South African wildlife photographs. The red of a Piet Mondrian is substituted for a lion’s gored prey, a wild dog frolics in the thicket of a Jackson Pollock, a zebra rump disturbs an Ellsworth Kelly and a leopard hisses from a soupy orange Rothko. The latter is also given talons and bat wings.
These absurd pairings imply that the posters have descended into kitsch – even the animals themselves appear largely impassive to the seminal works on which they graze and lumber. In a lucid moment in his paper Disfiguring Abstraction, which mostly reads like a conversation between a drug-addled maniac and a wall, Charles Bernstein notes that:
“…canonical abstract visual art has lost much of its conceptual, philosophic, and epistemic force because of its hegemonic position in the history of modernist art. Moreover, individual works have lost (some of) their visceral force by becoming iconic of themselves, logo rather than Loco.”
Indeed, many of these works have become memes; invisible for their aesthetic achievements because of their fame. Blom reactivates them with a cocky, yet endearing lack of deference.
In his scratchy hand, which is somewhere between the shorthand for a lightning bolt and the shorthand for crashing waves, he sketches a hoard of art-brut demons from a fantasy dungeon. These are a continuation of work from a previous monograph, titled Mondrian, in which similar characters move through the scaffolding of Mondrian’s compositions as they would through the levels of an 90’s video game. The doodles have a scratchy animalistic quality. This isn’t the restrained defacement of Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q. If it were, Mona Lisa would probably be sporting medusa hair and a mace.
By representing the canon in this way Blom is also stepping outside of it. His own contribution to the posters is of secondary importance in the viewing process. Our method of image recognition and predisposition for pattern mean that one recognizes the icon first and then the changes to that icon second. In Paintings and Posters, Blom directly quotes iconic works of art rather than adding to their kind.
In Paintings and Posters, Blom also seems to be stepping outside of his own oeuvre. Until 2017, Untitled was his title of choice. This functioned to avoid the incursion of alphabetic language onto the work but also to defer to a numerical system that allowed Blom to keep a rigorous log of his productions. Choosing titles for the these works – such as Zombie Swan, Colonel Kurtz and Composition with Monster and Confetti – implies that they exist outside of that system and instead in a fresh, unorganized space.
In Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, Umberto Boccioni’s bronze of the same name is hashed out in the upper left-hand corner (There is a quiz show element to viewing this exhibition. Guess the artwork and WIN!). Two red lasers project from its eyes. A patchwork of other canvas offcuts is scribbled with the same red, as though the lasers were bouncing and refracting endlessly within jagged prisms.
In this exhibition Blom departs drastically from previous paintings, most arrestingly in his flatter, more claustrophobic compositions. Gone is the vast unprimed ground and the fan-like Missoni zig-zags (a trend I eagerly await in cake icing). Gone is that Baconian perspectival box and the oozing daubs of pigment. Gone is the orgiastic smear and its halo of oil. In their places are collections of irregular cut-outs pasted onto stretched canvas. These fragments are a combination of paintings of famous works of art and Blom’s own figurative sketches. There is a qualitative shift from lushness to scratchiness; in emotional and aesthetic content.
In Paintings and Posters that careful vacuum of synergistic abstraction that characterized Blom’s earlier work has collapsed and signifiers have rushed to fill the void. And while this new body of work is fun, funny and even charming, it lacks the universality and sublimity that he has proved himself capable of evoking.