Portobello Road is most famously known for its antiques market, throbbing with the hustle of browsing and bargaining on a busy Saturday morning. But it’s a Tuesday night, and time for another opening at Graffik Gallery. This time it’s the turn of Christian Palmer, a UK born artist currently based in Byron Bay, Australia.
The show is Palmer’s first UK solo effort and exhibits his abilities from street art to tradition style painting. Immediately, the large canvases that stretch across the walls in the main room command attention, with repeating themes across the space; dogs, pigs, camels and cows in oils with quotes in childish writing scrawled in the negative space around.
The first in the room, When I Grow Up I wanna be famous, sets the precedent for the majority of the work. The title of the work is painted on the whitewashed area of the canvases, the morose-looking pig expertly and fluidly rendered, the edges of the animal bleeding and dripping into the plain background below. Whether the artist is asking us to consider the idea of the painting beyond the canvases or simply using this as an aesthetic remains unanswered. The effect is haunting and oddly transcendent, adding an unshakeable feeling of questions begging to be asked, perhaps reflecting in the curious naivety of the child-like handwriting.
As the exhibition continues, the writing on the pieces becomes more philosophical and poignant. An English bull terrier is stood regally and to attention in I’ve touched this space somewhere before in another time, the same effect of dripping around the animal. Palmer seems to be playing with our concepts and ideas of reality, of the meaning of these animals, lending them an existential voice, calling for an undressing and redressing of associations. Perhaps the drips are about smearing the lines of assumption and definition.
On the opposite wall is the Californication series, four differently coloured stencilled images of an image of a woman posing with a cigarette in mid-consumption. The obvious comparison would be with Warhol’s famous prints, but with “Hollywood Sells” and “Californication” repeated in the background, fading in and out of the image. Is Palmer trying to undermine the ideals of selling, glamorisation and the unattainability of the Hollywood image, or asking us to engage with our ideas of reality?
The animal motifs are repeated in other stencil work in the adjacent back area, the bull terrier appearing again in the smaller pieces. The street art has the same weight as the oil pieces, and in some ways is more poignant in its transgression of associations. Street art, stencilling in particular, is often denigrated by popular press into simply vandalism. Here, however, Palmer offers philosophy and points that haunt you for a while after the gallery door has closed behind you.
all images © Christian Palmer 2013