“This show,” begins American artist Dan Colen on the occasion of his first major London solo show at Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery, “is the first time I’ve been able to present the full range of my work and the wide-ranging ideas, crafts, materials, technologies and processes that I engage with.”
“The earliest piece in the exhibition was begun eleven days before 9/11 and the exhibition follows my intuitive trajectory over the last 15 years, which has allowed me to consider the transforming power of art when it’s experienced in different moments and contexts.” And what moments have passed in those 15 years. Conceived as a self-portrait (following a difficult period in Colen’s life) in 2010, and completed seven years later, The Big Kahuna is a contorted shambles that serves as an unavoidable metaphor for the broken American dream; a visceral exemplification of the power in art Colen describes.
In Sweet Liberty, a show that comprises four installations and several paintings and mixed-media (discarded ephemera and chewed gum long-standing waste materials employed by the artist) works, Colen’s frenetic style is laid bare; his cornucopia of conflicting influences seeing High Renaissance butt heads with Looney Tunes, globalisation and mass media.
“An orgy where you don’t know if it’s after or before climax,” is how the New York-based artist describes his tumultuous 2012—13 installation, Livin and Dyin; where Wile E. Coyote, the Kool-Aid Man, Roger Rabbit, and a life-size interpretation of himself naked are strewn through the gallery, having smashed comically through its walls. “It’s about that edge,” he continues, “where does it begin, where does it end? This show is about those dichotomies — form and content, material and narrative — opposing or not necessarily related things that are both pivotal parts of one’s experience.”
Sweet Liberty continues at at Newport Street Gallery, London, until 21 January.