Friday 13th February 2015 – Thursday 19th March, 11am–7pm, Lazarides Rathbone
Antony Micallef‘s visceral paintings loom from the walls of Lazarides gallery’s central London space, large canvases exploding with a riot of colour and deranged brushstrokes. Titled ‘Self’, this suite of paintings are an ironic comment on the social media-saturated contemporary culture that places so much emphasis on the cult of celebrity and the modern-day autograph: the ‘Selfie’. This exhibition is a departure for Micallef from his former incarnations as a Pop artist with roots in Manga and Street Art (seen in his sellout LA show ‘Impure Idols’ which made him collectable in Hollywood), or the mythological paintings featured in the seminal ‘Hells Half Acre’ exhibition in Old Vic Tunnels (his ‘Becoming Animal’ series). The new body of work seems to represent a more introspective artist, who has grown out of the mould of ‘Urban Artist’ and fully embraced the traditional notion of the studio artist.
Micallef goes back to basics with his use of oil paint, and pays homage to the legacy of that famous triumvirate of British figurative expressionist painters who once haunted the streets of Soho – Bacon, Auerbach and Freud. Their influence can be detected in the thickly applied layers and almost 3 dimensional impasto of Micallef’s new paintings. The influence of Auerbach is no accident, since Micallef was trained by one of his protegé’s, John Virtue.
There is an almost surgical feel to the canvases, as if the artist has become so introspective with his self-portraits that he has taken a knife to his visage and peeled back the skin, in an attempt to get to the heart of his psyche. A couple of paintings featuring flashes of angry red oils evoke the clown-like visages of George Condo.
In an age where so much of the imagery that assaults us during our every day lives is digitally manipulated or photoshopped, it’s refreshing to come across an exhibition of a contemporary artist who adheres to the Freud school of painting, going back to grass roots and fully embracing the idea of what it is to be an artist, to live and breathe your practice and put in many hours in the studio, pouring your heart into your work.
Micallef is no stranger to portraiture for he was runner up in the BP Portrait Prize in 2000, an achievement that kick-started his career at a young age. Yet while the paintings in ‘Self’ are a true celebration of the power of paint on canvas, and traditional in their use of oil as a medium, Micallef has not betrayed his Pop art roots with this wry comment on popular culture and the contemporary obsession with capturing and manipulating our own image with a ‘Selfie’.
The result of more than a year of translating metaphorical blood, sweat and tears into paintings, is an exhibition of living, breathing self-portraits that laugh in the face of our filtered Instagram culture.
Antony Micallef ‘Self’ is at Lazarides Rathbone until 19 March 2015: www.lazinc.com