Witchcraft & Warfare
Above the waist it was semi anthropomorphic, though its chest had the leathery, reticulated hide of a crocodile. The back was piebald with yellow and black and dimly suggested the squamous coverings of snakes. Below the waist though, it was the worst, for here all human resemblance left-off and sheer fantasy began. H. P. Lovecraft - The Dunwich Horror.
CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is delighted to present John Stark with his third one person exhibition at the gallery.
In this exhibition Stark presents a new collection of paintings that appear to depict a world divided, besieged and devoid of moral constraints. By opposing common assumptions based on Christian mechanisms, for example that prayer is purer than incantation; and by addressing the idea that modern civilisation uses Christian morality to legitimise its own violence, Stark seeks to go beyond centuries of doctrine and propaganda to express the reality of the horror that lies beneath western reason.
The centrepiece of this exhibition, 'No Man’s Land', Stark’s largest painting to date, includes numerous figures: witches, demons, satyrs, Greek gods, zombie soldiers and pin up girls who cavort and coagulate in various rituals and invocations. It is a place of metaphysical darkness where such perversions are permitted to exist. Recalling historical allegory painting by way of pulp horror and erotica, we are presented with a Bacchanalian depiction of indulgence, malevolence and empowerment that refers to the cyclical births, evolutions and downfalls of societies throughout history, everywhere. Other paintings are more discrete as we are asked to contemplate a metallic doorway of a fortune teller's house; a prayer candle burning on a rocky precipice in dark night; and a soldier manning a lookout post, gazing east through night vision binoculars.
But there is a deep underlying contradiction at the heart of these paintings, where the artist employs traditions and narratives in order to demystify and undermine those very same traditions and narratives. By embracing otherness Stark parodies the familiar and in doing so ensures his position remains ambiguous, with the viewer never quite able to make certified judgements, both morally and aesthetically. Our intellectual assumptions are challenged as we are forced to contemplate the contrary relationships between reality and illusion; political and mythological; modern and primitive; good and evil; sacred and profane; salvation and damnation. Stark tells us that these are not contradictions but interrelated aspects of a complex universe, where hierarchies are dissolved and polarities dismantled.
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