Life’s Too Short To Live In Black And White
Fitzrovia gallery’s joint show by Jolyon Fenwick and Liza Campbell is a riot of colour and concepts
Life’s Too Short To Live In Black And White opens on October the 25th and, as its title suggests, after a year and a half of pandemic-induced grayness, it is a defence of keeping things bright, playful and multi-coloured even in dark times. Works on show include Jolyon Fenwick’s sculpture series ‘Virus Classics’, in which he plays on titles and artwork of the classic penguin series designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith to create a series more in-tune with a world living with Covid-19. Examples include Waiting for Ocado, At Least Two Metres From the Madding Crowd, and Tom Brown’s Home School Days.
When asked in a recent interview whether he worried that his humorous approach to the realities of the pandemic might be offensive to those who had struggled through an incredibly bleak period, Fenwick pointed out that “The ‘black joke’ has always been a great tradition of the British in a crisis” and that Virus Classics are intended as a “souvenir of a moment” which proves that we were not always exclusively “po-faced”.
Fenwick’s ‘A Decline in Mental Health’ is similarly tongue-in-cheek. Each sculpture involves marbles pinned to a board as if in a taxonomy study. Just a few marbles lie in mayhem at the bottom of each frame, where, next to names like Julian and Verity, they hint at a literary, rather than scientific organisation. Cheerfully colourful as they are, might not these disorganised patterns hint at what might have happened to the viewer’s own marbles over the last year and a half?
Liza Campbell’s series ‘Textual Taxonomies’ also plays with this idea of categorisation, this time bringing together the scientific study of semantics and sense with an art form more traditionally relegated to a supposedly less scientific time period; the tapestry. In her tapestries, which are over a metre wide each, she brings together words and phrases which are linked by theme, word or idea under a banner of her own choosing. In the title image ‘Just the One’ for example, Campbell creates a visually complex list of different reasons people give to have a little drink, from the overtly serious ‘blood of Christ’ to the humorous ‘Pimms O’clock’, to the obscure ‘Little Gentleman in Black Velvet’, a reference to an old Jacobean toast cheering the death of William III, supposedly brought about by a stumble his horse took over a molehill.
When asked how she came to link the medieval art form with the semi-scientific content, Campbell explained that “These things develop in such a stealthy, organic way.” With maps and lists being a long-standing interest, Campbell had created a few of the taxonomies initially as paintings, but when she stitched together a small version of the Social Animal Kingdom one day, it was Fenwick who encouraged her to expand them into their current form.
Fenwick’s third offering, entitled ‘Compositions with Beetles & Butterflies’ is the most literal take on taxonomy, being something of a lepidopterist’s dream — or nightmare. Rather than organising his beetles and bugs in careful, boring rows, Fenwick spreads them out in satirical patterns, reflecting their different titles. In Lunch Guantanamo (2021), a selection of Appias Nero butterflies, as bright orange as prisoner jumpsuits, are arranged in careful little rectangle, the space for a lunch table clearly visible between each group.
Although they started working on each of their collections seperately, Fenwick and Campbell have created bodies of work linked not only by their colourful aesthetics, but also by a certain charmingly tongue-in-cheek scientific approach to that same colourfulness. Their artworks carefully categorise the bright colours into different classifications and formations, bringing back fun to a field which has recently been filled with far too much sombre news.
Life is too Short to Live in Black And White runs from 25th to 31st October at Fitzrovia Gallery.