“As with every show, I try to give the audience a good night out; show them something they may not have seen before. There are allusions and games in my new pieces. I hope there’s quality, too.”
Michael Mansfield is back with his seventh solo exhibition, ‘Still Life Stories’.
The artist’s latest presents a collection of inanimate objects that often find themselves as centrepieces in vibrant narrative paintings. He explains, “It helps that a lot of my ideas involve toys, so they come with their own expressions and personalities, or rather, ones which I impose on them”. As part of his creative practice, Mansfield collects objects that might spark an idea – and admits to a special liking for inflatable pool toys – though it might take years for inspiration to strike. “I’m always rummaging through all these containers of junk, trying to squeeze a story from them, like a kid playing.”
But, while the toys and exuberant oils on canvas might have a fun, colourful appearance, it often speaks “serious stories, or bring life’s more disturbing aspects to one’s attention”. Some works are self-explanatory, like the penguin standing on a small block of ice, with a tin of Lucky Star pilchards sticking out from beneath it, titled Last Supper. Less topical themes refer to classical art subjects such as The Birth of Venus; suggested by a shell-shaped jewellery bowl, a humongous pearl (or repurposed deodorant ball) and, as Venus, Hello Kitty, “who just happened to be lying around the studio”.
While his connection to the history of Western art and Classical masters remains evident, Mansfield notes that his most recent works are different from earlier pieces. He explains, “I’m getting older, grouchier, and more things are bothering me. The paintings are less kind. Those clockwork chattering teeth seem to represent everything I find wrong with humanity these days. Greedy, cruel, grinning, brainless things. In a word, disturbing.”
To further compliment the narrative and highlight the underlying essence of his subject matter, the exhibition includes a series of black and white watercolour and ink paintings of everyday items. “I have tried to use the most mundane objects I could find: bath plugs, ball point pens, pizza boxes. I chose them because they are kind of black and white in real life, so there’s a dimension of realism without trying too hard.”
Mansfield’s tongue-in-the-cheek playfulness is once again apparent in his latest exhibition, however, this time with a critical eye on the human condition and life itself. And as a possible side effect of getting too deeply absorbed in his subject matter, the artist describes his new work as “three years of agonising slog; trying to pack a lot of painting into a small area, with a tiny brush. I doubt I could ever take anything like this on again”. Better make sure not to miss this one then!
Below the digital catalogue.