8th March - 3rd May
Blair turns his head and stares out at us, trademark grin on his face,
except this time it seems a little more manic than usual. A metal
keyring is brutally piercing the cartilage between his nostrils.
Dangling from it, just below his mouth, is a cute children's toy:
Barney, the purple dinosaur and superstar of American children's
television. Nicole Kidman faces us directly in her portrait. Her hair is
dishevelled and her face pockmarked by a vile disease. The look from her
right eye is penetrating her left eye, hidden from view by seven red
laser beam-like lines that meet in its centre. Karl Lagerfeld has been
painted from his chest upward, his ponytail, sunglasses and suit
immaculate. The two giant white cockroaches crawling across him barely
spoil the impression. He hardly seems to notice them.
These are some of the
subjects that people the world of the contemporary painter Dawn Mellor's
portraits. She concentrates on painting portraits of well-known public
figures with a twist. And now they have come to Devon. Originally
organised by Studio Voltaire, London, the exhibition at Spacex also
includes works that have never been seen before.
Dawn Mellor was born in
Manchester in 1970 and now lives and works in London. She studied at
Manchester Polytechnic as well as Central Saint Martins College of Art
and Design, London. She then graduated from the Royal College of Art in
London in 1996. For the last 10 years, she has been painting
celebrities. She has said that the time she spent studying was the only
period where this has not been the major focus in her work.
But Dawn Mellor is a rising star herself. She has had her own
exhibitions throughout Europe and in the United States: in Exeter, you
can now catch Vile Affections just before it transfers to Team Gallery
in New York. Later this year, she has a major solo exhibition at the
renowned Migros Museum for Contemporary Art in Zurich, Switzerland.
from Hollywood stars, actors and musicians, she has painted political
and religious leaders, as well as famous thinkers and writers.
Occasionally, she has also chosen to turn her attention to her
contemporaries in the art world and painted other artists and arts
professionals. This is the case in Vile Affections, too. However, the
show mainly features a vast amount of stars as well as some of the most
powerful politicians and well-known intellectuals of our time.
Yet Dawn Mellor's portraits are never just straightforward
representations of their subjects. Instead, she puts celebrities in
grotesque situations. While they are always recognisable, they are
re-imagined by the artist to startling effect. They may wear strange
clothes or costumes. They are sometimes accompanied by animals or
objects, which may not necessarily seem to be related to them. And they
are often painted in shocking poses. In fact, many of the paintings draw
on disconcerting, violent or sexual imagery. Vile Affections is
certainly not for the faint-hearted, and Dawn Mellor's art can be very
unsettling. But that same shock effect forms an important part of the
profound artistic message of her works.
Dawn Mellor first began drawing pictures of celebrities at a young age.
Today she is still inspired by the same material, albeit in a very
different way. She has admitted to still having the same adolescent
enthusiasm for celebrities, too, and it is clear that she is not out to
attack individuals in her art. Instead, her paintings often seem to
emphasize with the celebrities they portray and their situation in our
society. Her works frequently show precisely those celebrities that have
been especially criticised in the media. Dawn Mellor*s art can
therefore also be seen as a comment on the society from which these
famous people have emerged.
the portraits in Vile Affections may be. Nevertheless, it is clear that
Dawn Mellor uses her paintings and drawings of celebrities to
investigate a range of issues that go beyond a narrow concern with
the subjects she portrays. Her art is political and engaged. Through the
portraits of particular people she asks more general questions about
topics such as racism and homophobia.
And there are many famous faces in Vile Affections. From Madonna to
Michael Jackson, via Sigmund Freud, Martin Luther King and Alfred
Hitchcock, Dawn Mellor has included scores of American and British as
well as other international stars in her paintings. Vile Affections also
features a new series of drawings of Britney Spears and an extended
series of portraits of the actress Julianne Moore, both of which the
artist unveiled exclusively for Spacex. There are over 60 paintings in
These have been hung close together in a way that is reminiscent of the
famous Salon exhibitions held in Paris in the 18th and 19th centuries.
This gives the paintings a hint of the atmosphere of competition and
social approval that played a role in the Salon, where a jury decided
which works would be shown and how prominently they would be positioned.
The Salon of Vile Affections seems to ask whether there is a competition
that celebrities have to take part in to become famous, and how they are
approved. Yet the paintings explore not only how our celebrity culture
is constructed, but our wider culture, too.
Vile Affections is an unconventional look at the world and a 21st
century update of portraiture. And in the end, as serious as the
exhibition's artistic aims may be, it is not without humour either as a
certain purple dinosaur dangling from a very famous nose might testify.
appears courtesy of 'The Peoples Republic of South Devon'