Michelangelo, royalty, gelato, iPads, the Chrysler Building, Viagra, Botticelli, donuts and Coke.
Kent Christensen’s new oil paintings in Sensory Overload investigate how we are surrounded, sometimes overwhelmed, and often obsessed by the stuff of modern life. Once, icons were the exclusive domain of religion and royalty. Now they are everywhere and provide the visual backdrop to our world. Thanks to mass advertising, corporate and popular culture, almost anything can attain iconic status.
Christensen’s work has always been rooted in art history, spanning modern and classical references to inform his contemporary paintings. Growing up in Los Angeles alongside the giant donut, Hollywood sign and the omnipresence of movie and television studios, prepared him well for life in New York where its monolithic skyline presides over a population that thrives on being at the centre of the cultural universe. These experiences have provided him with a vast visual vocabulary, some of which is on display in these paintings.
Iconic imagery is used in all of these paintings to comment on contemporary culture. In Swarm (2011) a stylised aboriginal man is enveloped in an inescapable mass of insects and technology. Technological gadgets are alluring irritants, like insects, and experience a similarly brief lifespan. We are both drawn to and can’t easily escape from them. In Three Graces (2011) Christensen appropriates Botticelli’s goddesses; however, instead of bearing precious jewels, they brace a giant triple-scoop monumental ice cream cone. In New York Breakfast he marries an image inspired by L.A.’s giant donut with New York’s comfortingly familiar, pre-Starbucks coffee cup. The Empire State and Chrysler Buildings loom in the distance as the Donut is held aloft by Rockefeller Centre’s famous Atlas sculpture. All of the works in this exhibition incorporate central, heroic human figures.
In the largest of the works, Sensory Overload (2011), two monumental faces are turned away from each other and are surrounded by iconic and highly recognizable food, drugs and gadgetry. The artist questions the quality of life these conveniences have actually brought us. In an era where there is an app, medicine or fast food to fulfil a plethora of needs, we may be getting further away from the aspects of life that are personally and substantially fulfilling. We end up spending equal amounts of time and money trying to control our desires as we do in pursuit of them. The gilded background recalls religious icon painting and Gustav Klimt’s seductive gold decorations but in Christensen’s world, his precious ornamentation is made from candy wrappers.
Kent Christensen was born in Los Angeles in 1957. He currently lives and works in New York City and Sundance, Utah. Sensory Overload is his third solo show at Eleven. In 2010 his work was included in Party! at the New Art Gallery Walsall.
For further information on Sensory Overload, or forthcoming exhibitions at Eleven please contact Susannah Haworth on 020 7823 5540 or on firstname.lastname@example.org