Ashley Bickerton: Seascapes at the End of History
Through March 5, 2022
By D. DOMINICK LOMBARDI, February 2022
I still remember the feeling I had the first time I saw Ashley Bickerton’s work - that sense of the future coursing through the room – art you would expect to see in a space station, or in a museum on a colonized planet. I’m thinking it was probably Tormented Self-Portrait (Susie at Arles) (1987-1988) or Good Painting (1988) or a piece just like it that I was looking at, perhaps at Sonnabend, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It was so different than anything I had ever seen, something like TODT’s spacey environments around that same time, but more lowbrow, more succinct, more uncooperative in its narrative, and carrying a message that was quite layered and complex. Whatever it was, Bickerton’s brilliance was immediately apparent.
A decade later, I would experience another stunning moment in the presence of a trio of humorously rendered paintings representing the endomorph, mesomorph, ectomorph/hermaphrodite type titled All That I Can Be: Triple Self Portrait: Ashleigh (1996); A.B. (1996); Bickski (1996). Now I’m not about to go through all of the different periods or types Bickerton immersed himself in over the years, but I do need to state that each time there was a change in his career, it was big and it was potent. So here we are today, at Lehmann Maupin and their current exhibition, where the works that can generally be described as more autobiographical than is usual for Bickerton. The entire exhibition alludes to his bucolic island life, and reminds us that he once was an avid and accomplished surfer. The exhibition is comprised of a variety of techniques and types, including one large expansive piece that combines much of the methods of fabrication that are seen here, suggesting the sights, smells and sounds of this artist’s life in Bali, with the installation titled Hanging Ocean Chunk (To Be Dragged Up Cliff Faces, Strung Across Ravines, and Suspended From The Forest Canopy) 1 (2022).
As mentioned, the orientation in all the art here is the sea – the beach, underwater life and the unfortunate result of humans who endlessly pollute. Aside from the occasional self portrait of the past, there is much more of the presence of the artist here, where his footprints in the sand, the dead or dying colorless coral encased in multiple layers of resin that he has seen first hand, the traditional colorful nautical flags, suggestions of floatation devices or air canisters and the like, and all the symbols that are informed by the fragility of life.
The atmosphere, the reality set upon us in this exhibition is quite visceral, and is as much a celebration as it is a warning, and yes, as the exhibition’s title suggests, we are witness to the Seascapes at the End of History. That mention of an ‘end’ is most clear in the ubiquitous plastic detritus that runs through our oceans, clearly present here in the sinuous ridges beneath etched-glass in works like River Vector: Big White (2022). Hanging ominously on the gallery wall, it slowly reveals the endless waves of uncaring, the depth of disrespect, and the resulting slow-motion apocalypse we all are aware of by now – yet still it continues.
As some struggle to save our earth’s reefs, that invisible crisis to most of us landlubbers, we see one huge fact of failure that does not go unnoticed under his gaze. With works like 0°36'06.2"N, 131°09'41.8"E 1 (2022), Bickerton forms a pristine, totemic, monolithic object as we experience it softly and slowly swaying us into submission with its hypnotic beauty and soothing tones – eventually making us aware of the lifeless coral crumbling below. Bickerton, the consummate master of both the alternate and the actual, the beauty and the brutal, the representation of a current world formed by greed is his overall message, where the true thinkers, our best and most passionate creators can represent it all in its purest form.
Ashley Bickerton: Seascapes at the End of History runs through March 5th at Lehmann Maupin in Chelsea. WM
D. Dominick Lombardi is an artist, art writer and curator based in New York. A 45-Year retrospective of his art, which was curated by T. Michael Martin, has traveled from the Clara M. Eagle Gallery at MSU in Western Kentucky in 2019, to the Marie Walsh Sharpe Gallery of Contemporary Art, Ent Center for the Arts, UCCS in Colorado Springs in 2021 – next moving to the Dowd Gallery at SUNY Cortland, New York in February, 2022. Some of his writing credits include the New Art Examiner (1997-98), ARTnews (1997), The New York Times (1998-2005), Juxtapoz (2002), Art in Asia (2007-2009), The Huffington Post (2012-2018), ARTES (2016-present), CultureCatch (2006-present), and dArt International magazine (2005-present). Lombardi’s most recent curatorial projects are “LandX” for Red fox Contemporary in Pound Ridge, NY (2021), “A Horse Walks Into a Bar” for the Hampden Gallery at UMASS Amherst, MA, (2020) and “I Am…” for the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, FL, (2020). Contributor portrait by Danh Nguyen.view all articles from this author