Beyond the Grave
Gordon Cheung / Annie Kevans / Hugh Mendes

Painting Power, Painting Death
Text by Craig Burnett

Sartorial Contemporary Art
Feb 8 - Mar 7 2005
Opening Times: Tues - Fri 1:30-6:30pm

Gordon Cheung's portraits from Forbes magazine's list of ‘Top-Earning Dead Celebrities' – entertainers who continue to rake in the cash from beyond their graves – convey a similar mix of dread and fascination. The fact that these corpses live on as money machines seems like an infuriating waste – some heir or copyright holder is benefiting from this strange combination of consumerism and necrophilia. Painted in hazy, halo-like sprays of pigment in lurid, sci-fi colours on old copies of the flesh-toned Financial Times , these portraits seem to exist on an alternative planet where taste and morality fled for the world next door.
 
Gordon Cheung.'Top-Earning Dead Celebrities
(John Lennon) 2006, mixed media
 
Annie Kevans' series of boyhood portraits of history's more notorious dictators invite us to wonder what went wrong along the path to manhood. Presumably, these men all began life as the same sweet, saucer-eyed boys in need of a cuddle from time to time. Did they choose their fate or did something incomprehensible lead them to a life of supreme nastiness? Kevans paints with delicate washes and soft, fleshy tones to suggest that something fundamental might be at work, as if evil were an ever-present thing, inhabiting lives almost at random. In her new work, she continues to explore the strangeness of fate through portraits of history's more unlucky – or unsavory – characters.
 
Annie Kevans 'Arafat' 2006, oil on paper
 

Hugh Mendes has been painting scraps of obituaries over the past few years, a process that began soon after the death of his own father. Obituaries condense a life into a few column inches and a single image – a scrap of newsprint that becomes a heavy token, a small part for the whole that ricochets somewhere in the eternity of our collective memory. Mendes creates something like an icon from these everyday events, a small, powerful painting that glows with concentrated melancholy and beauty.

 

 

 
Hugh Mendes 'Obituary: George Best'
2006, oil on linen

 

 

'Let death and exile and everything that is terrible appear before your eyes every day, especially death; and you will never have anything contemptible in your thoughts or crave anything excessively.' Epictetus, The Handbook.

Power, money and death seem to inhabit a world beyond the ken of everyday life, provoking horror and fascination in equal measure. Though we all might pine for a taste of wealth and omnipotence from time to time, the rich and powerful smack of evil, as if success stripped the over-ambitious of their souls. Saddam Hussein, Elvis Presley, Bill Gates and even Andy Warhol have all achieved some level of immortality, and for that they have become objects of both contempt and desire. A dictator, a rock star, an entrepreneur and an artist make a strange group, but all of these guys seem to have licked life's great inevitable, and that makes them both obscene and irresistible. It's an illusion, of course – everyone's the same heap of worm-nibbled bones in the end. Yet religion and celebrity have a knack of generating great piles of gold and power because we have never learned to cope with our own mortality.

So what's a humble painter to do? Hugh Mendes, Gordon Cheung and Annie Kevans create portraits that create a bridge, however tentative, between the intimacy of one life and the vast impersonality of death.

Our mortality remains a steadfast wound on our hearts. Annie Kevans, Hugh Mendes and Gordon Cheung forge small objects of beauty and longing from this incurable ache.

Craig Burnett

 
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