The thing about high culture and low culture is that no one seems particularly sure which is which any more. If high culture was once easily defined by an intellectual rigour then we know well its achievements: The Odyssey, The Sistine Chapel, Bach's concertos, and such like. If it's opposite is low culture, there we must recognise an innate vigour as found in cave painting, Jazz, graffiti art, and so on.
Are we to understand that it is high culture - spent and reduced to irony - that has led us to the point where Jeff Koons' Balloon Dog sells for 58.4 million US dollars? It is difficult from any angle to appreciate Koons' work as a part of a cultural canon stretching through the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, back to antiquity. Indeed, regarding Koons' – that well heeled, ex Manhattan commodities broker – it is difficult to find anything of a critique of that culture habitually termed 'low'.
In the money tarnished art world of 2017, more urgent than ever is the need to abandon hierarchical cultural codification. The need is to unburden artistic voices and insist that they create and engage freely with our world today. In this domain, responding to the polarities of high and low culture, artist Christopher Stead focuses his work.
His work is abstract but informed by social concerns. Extremes of social inequality are encoded into the extremes of a visual language that appropriates iconography of both high and low culture. Stead takes 'hi-vis' safety materials and contrasts their aesthetic content with the serene safety of the white cube. His latest project and subsequent solo show is titled Chromophobia. It refers to an institutional inclination to associate high art with subdued, marketable colour palettes, while designating bright colours as low and unmarketable. Drawing on brash neons, the work is a ludic levelling of cultural and commercial customs.
This demolition is in turn applied directly to the physical form of the work itself. As we move around these layered structures we are not concerned solely with the materiality of the paint but also it's interaction with areas of exposed or damaged canvas and stretcher, along with interwoven found objects which are equal parts personal and public symbols. More than collages of material rhythms, these structures explode and recombine semiotic significances in a fluidity of abstract complexities.
The power of the work is in its transgression of aesthetic thus cultural absolutism, effected through the vandalism of painterly and sculptural formalism. Its authenticity could not come from the artists’ academic and gallery experience alone, it is grounded in his years in the graffiti underground. As it is with graffiti art, so too it is with this work: the creative act is to be found in the destructive act, where new meaning is articulated through appropriation of old symbols. If we are now to look towards a future of art based on unburdened, lucid expression – not 'high' nor 'low', but authentic – then where better to begin than with the bold neon vision of Christopher Stead and his solo show, Chromophobia.
Chromophobia is showing at Proof Gallery, Cheshire Street, London E2 until the 19th of March 2017.
Work from the show is available for acquisition here:
- March 04, 2017
- John De Plume