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Daryl Waller: Two Crosses

Goldfish, Penzance


'Two hunters' (picture right) is the first painting in this, Daryl Waller's first solo show at Goldfish. It shows blue trees in a blue forest. In the branches sit two roughly painted alien figures, one of them with red rays emerging from its eyes. Executed with child-like simplicity in brightly coloured gouache, the work in its form at least, is strongly reminiscent of Roger Hilton's late paintings. It contains the first of several film references in the exhibition: this time to 'Predator' starring Arnold Schwarznegger.

Five works are placed on the opposite wall in the shape of a cross. Though the links between them are not clear, they are predominantly yellow and depict pyramids, so suggesting Egypt and the Middle East. The top painting contains a version of the Eye of Providence: an icon that features on the American dollar bill, and thought to be a masonic symbol of the all-seeing eye of God. The theme of the all-seeing eye, relating as it does eg to the eye of Horus, appears and reappears in these works, and is particularly affecting in the small and abject painting: 'Coughing Blood'.

Religious themes, and images of crosses also recur. In 'Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw', a work in black ink on paper, a cloaked Jacobean figure reads a bible with not one but two crosses on it. The significance of the two crosses is not clear, but many of the other paintings contain crosses in the two upper corners, and in some works eg 'Burning Tree' they are very prominent. The pairing seems to refer to a duality, perhaps to male and female principles, perhaps to a marital or sexual couple.

Two of the strongest paintings are in the stairs. Both 'Robert the Bruce' and 'Vision' are very beautiful. The latter (picture above left) comprises a looming black spectre rising up in the middle of the scene, surrounded by barely formed foetus-like figures, guns and blobs of paint. 'Robert the Bruce' (below right) looks like an underwater cave, its blue background like the sea or a night sky, glinting with glitter.

'Uberman with a Jesus Mask' (below left) - the title probably referring to Neitzche's Ubermench - in the first floor gallery is an image of a superman-like figure complete with red cloak and red pants, and a single large cyclops eye. Several acolytes in the form of little white ghosts appear to bow down before him, though each of these ghosts also has a fleshy pink figure inside it. As an image of body and soul combined, they are both literal and direct. On the floor beneath them is a sculpture of a pile of bones made simply in clay.

Five paintings clustered in another cross, include one with another image of Superman, this time with lasers emitting from his eyes, standing in a kind of cemetery. Both works suggest a Hollywood (or Marvel-comic) god-like figure ruling over the spirits of the afterlife.

Waller likes to keep testing himself and his audience. Whilst the paintings have a clear, if complex, set of interrelated themes, 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' goes off in another direction altogether. For the first two weeks of the show Waller was dressed in a monkey suit and fenced into the smaller of the two galleries on the first floor. There he could be watched both in the gallery and via a webcam sitting, reading, drawing and staring into space, whilst behind his chair a dry-ice machine wafts smoke over and around him (see 'webprojects').

One element that links the performance to the paintings is the references to film culture. The costume, which is very realistic, had been bought from e-bay and had been used in a film previously. Another link is the celebration of naivete or the primitive, and another is the apparent erasure of Waller's personal biography, which up until now had been an important feature of his work, but was largely absent from this collection of paintings. Thus on the night of the private view, he was there in person, but he was inaccessible, incommunicado and eerily hidden behind the costume.

The catalogue for the show was designed by Waller, and was, in this sense, a work in its own right. Nihilism and Neitzsche was mentioned more than once, and both appear to have been an important influence on the artist in the period leading up to the exhibition. Nietzsche was not himself a nihilist, but described nihilism as a condition of modern man, who no longer has faith or a set of absolute ideals and morals to believe in. A number of commentators, such as Baudrillard, have linked this to cultural and moral relativism: one of the core features of post-modernism.

Whether it is useful for artists to invoke such intellectual heavy-weights is debatable, however the 'relativism' of 'Two Crosses' results in a powerful collection of dense and complex works in which timeless religious iconography rubs up against contemporary archetypes, to create a fascinating - and liberating - total world view. This view is one that is able to connect in a multitude of ways with important themes, using a completely contemporary language.

Perhaps because of its affiliation with abstract art, and with 'beaux pienture', too much art from Cornwall is simply decorative and lacks genuine meaning or content. Waller is one of only a handful of artists working or showing here seemingly willing, or able, to change this.

Portrait of the artist as a Young Man can be viewed on the webproject page or on the Goldfish website


RW 19/5/08