Graffiti artists accept the emphemeral nature of their artwork – it’s intrinsic to their working method from the start. They don’t expect longevity; the impact of a work has to continue in some other, more subliminal way, to endure, and that all hangs on the first impression the viewer has of the work – another component that is key to the way a graffiti artist has to work.
The omnipotent Nicholas Logsdail suggests in the latest issue of Elephant magazine that the YBAs is one of the only – if indeed, at all – movements of artists to happen in recent decades. Logsdail surmises that this lack of movements is one of the major changes in art of our times. With its implied principles and its genuinely global reach, graffiti, street art – whatever label you must assign to it, all equally repugnant to artist and writer – this feels closer to a cohesive movement than anything else happening in art right now too. The way in which Ken Sortais, and other contemporary artists like him, work is in a continual state of flux, geographically, as well as shifting in form. Where and how paintings appear is unpredictable. You could just be going about your day, when a huge painting reading ‘I have small dick’ will get in your way.
Ken Sortais, from The Prince of Darkness , 2012, Acrylic on ply; Courtesy of the artist and Galleries Goldstein.
‘The Prince of Darkness’ is a rare solo exhibition by the young Parisian artist Ken Sortais at Galleries Goldstein, sequestered down a cobbled road close to East London’s Hoxton Square. The last exhibition to be held at the independent gallery space, after eighteen months in residence at Goodhood, it comprises a series of new paintings by Sortais on ply in acrylic house paint. They possess a bouncing fluidity that has the exact dichotomous quality in form that the artist aims at conceptually; lean one way towards neurotic cartoons full of nightmarish, ghoul-faced characters, or find a cosy, jolly, world of grinning, squishy-looking friends.
The show is the result of a considered, carefully measured (literally, with the artist working meticulously to a plan of the gallery space) process, an idea spawned by Sortais, which centres around eighteen Tibetan masks – or what a zany text written by the artist refers to as:
'eighteen entities, each of them symbolizing evils buried since the beginning of Humanity. Eighteen apostles of evil whom you will know nothing about, whom you should not try to give meaning, but rather materialise as soon as you detect them. These spirits can take different forms, and their representations change according on the person considering them.'
It seems a basic allusion to the subjectivity of interpretation, but it opens up an interesting question on the appropriation of images, when considering the stance of an artist with a background as Sortais’s: images painted on the streets can end up all over the world, posted on the internet, and their original meaning or effect ripped asunder.
The role of shaman combined with his aesthetic of bubblish, bright painting is not an obvious one. But the physicality of Sortais’s painting is one of the salient qualities of this show, wrenching the viewer into its metaphysical journey – just in the way that Fantasia disingenuously transports you to a place that is by turns nonsensical, frightening and fun at the same time.
Mixing pop and esoteric references – the artist speaks of influences from early era Disney and Van Beuren to Wim Delvoye, Alain Sechas and Japanese cartoonist Otomo – he creates something fresh and energetic. The originality of Sortais’s work was discerned last year by the prestigious Salon De Montrouge – a programme endorsing original emerging artists – and consequently presented at an exhibition in 2011 at the Palais de Tokyo.
Ken Sortais, Paintings produced in collaboration with 'Horfe', Acrylic and ink on wall, Vardø, Norway, 2012; Courtesy of the artist.
Sortais’s interest in masks perhaps relates to his multi-faceted practice, conjuring different sides to his nature as an artist – he also paints with one of Paris’s most prolific crews, PAL. Russell Maurice, who runs Galleries Goldstein, also an artist himself, says of the current project, ‘I personally am stoked to have worked with Ken as I think what he, Horfe and the PAL crew are doing in art, as well as with their Graf work, is really pushing things in a new direction. It’s exciting to see how things unfold.’
(Image on top: Ken Sortais, from The Prince of Darkness , 2012, Acrylic on ply; Courtesy of the artist and Galleries Goldstein.)