Steven Asquith’s new exhibition comprises a sequence of works on canvas created within the context of the current geopolitical climate and our bombardment with received (mis)information.
“The works have been generated in an environment of fatigue from a media-led (fake news) global consciousness – where the propaganda of bickering global states fills our airwaves, laptops and pockets. A dystopian present fed by the footage of bombing raids, missile tests, terrorism, detention centres, climate change, natural disasters, the fear of nuclear annihilation and economic collapse - all broadcast 24/7 into our TVs and iPhones.”
Paradoxically, the beautifully seductive abstract paintings in the exhibition spring from dark beginnings. They begin their life in an act of violence and chaos, whereby stencils are ripped and stabbed with a screwdriver to make the necessary holes through which paint will subsequently be sprayed on to the canvases. The resulting white, shimmering marks float across the depth of infinite spaces, which are suggestive of toxic skies or lurid abysses. The marks are redolent of street crime and violent confrontations. There is a sense of the dystopia and decomposition as expressed by the writer J. G. Ballard in his explorations of urban decay and societal disintegration.
The fact that the works are both beautiful and alarming is evidence of Asquith’s abiding interest in the divergence between images and their meaning, and his wish to further the legacy of abstraction on his own unique terms.
The artist has stated: “The violent nature within us and, at a macro level, Empire and Nation States, is acted out and depicted in these abstract forms.”
The surfaces appear distressed, torn, punctured, battered; they seem on the point of collapse, or perhaps they are reforming. Light seems to be emerging through the illusionistic ‘rips’ and ‘holes’, creating the impression of another reality behind and beyond the picture planes. This is an appropriate simulacrum of the layers of ‘truths’ and ‘fictions’ from news outlets etc. that bombard us every second of our lives.
And so, we are presented at least two possible pictorial ideas – the first is the abstract marks and shapes, which reside on the surfaces of the paintings; the second is the suggestion or illusion of further, unseen depths behind the screen of the canvas, which threaten to burst through the veil into our literal space.
Asquith’s use of spray acrylic on canvas aligns them with the notion of street art or graffiti, and gives the paintings an added evocation of urban decay. By utilising some of the methods of street art and transposing them into the gallery, Asquith has created highly contemporary works, which speak of a range of modern anxieties. His urgent, edgy paintings extend the possibilities of current abstraction, and are, in his words, a “response to our new millennial geopolitical dystopia.”
Steve Cox, 2017.