Artspace on photorealism in David Haines' drawings

Artspace on photorealism in David Haines' drawings

Artspace on photorealism in David Haines' drawings

"An investigation into the dialectical structures of mythology underpins the meticulous, hyper-real drawings of Amsterdam-based artist David Haines. Claude Lévi-Strauss understood mythological thought to be that which "always progresses from the awareness of oppositions towards their resolution." That is to say, myths comprise contradictory elements as well as those serving to mediate or resolve those oppositions. With an exquisite technique, Haines embeds these ideas in his works, which are at once seductive and disconcerting. Take Adidas Chicken Convection (2010) for example, in which two youths crouch beneath a dingy concrete flyover. One devours a fast-food meal, while the other, his face half concealed by a Burberry scarf, casts an intimidating scowl as he attempts to cook a chicken with a cigarette lighter. As Lévi-Strauss asserted, the opposition between raw and cooked food, elaborated in myths and rituals around the world, expresses the universal distinction between nature and culture. Such collisions of ancient thought and contemporary experience typify Haines’s recent works, serving to affirm the universal language of myth famously espoused by the French anthropologist.

Haines, however, resists any attempt to update the myths of the past, finding instead contemporary expressions of the underlying dialectics that shaped the surreal and frequently gruesome tales of the ancients. Much of his imagery originates online, taken from obscure fetish websites and other shadowy corners of the internet. In this way he creates contemporary myths for the digital age.

Haines’s drawings display an unfettered fascination with what the British commonly refer to as "scallies" or "chavs"—working-class adolescents with a penchant for branded designer sportswear and gold jewellery. As may be witnessed in virtually any UK town centre, Burberry caps, hooded tops and Adidas trainers are common attire among this British subculture. Classic brands such as Osiris, Reebok and Nike are also popular and appear as leitmotifs throughout Haines’s work, alluding to the way in which key elements are often repeated again and again in mythological thought. Not only do the names project a disarming familiarity, but they also carry strong mythological resonances that introduce subtle subtexts into the work. For instance, the African species of antelope known as rhebok, from which the popular sportswear brand derives its name, becomes excessively aggressive during the breeding season. Aggression and violence, both overt and covert, are recurring themes for Haines, yet the true nature of these images often remains ambiguous. For instance, are the violent scenes depicted in Baroque Semiotics (2012) and No Nacis (2011) acts of sadistic bullying or perhaps some kind of mysterious initiation ceremony? Whatever the answer, they, as with the rest of this artist’s oeuvre, make for uncomfortable yet utterly compelling viewing."

David Trigg

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30 Mar '18