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David Mabb: Re-Signaling the Regime

The world is filled with signals that are trying to impart some sensation. Some are centered on generating a reaction, others on invoking authentic inspiration. It’s no surprise that the two different forms often appear in the art world. Perhaps English artist, David Mabb’s work synthesizes the realm of the reaction and the aesthetic. Heavily influenced by ideology, Mabb is producing imagery re-contextualized with in a paradigm of thought. This is most evident in his fixation with the florid fabric and wallpaper designs of William Morris, a nineteenth century industrialist. Mabb comments that Morris’ designs – with spanning branches of lush greenery, clusters of ripe and colorful fruit, bunches of flowers with petals spread in bloom – incorporate the sense of utopia in their superabundance, citing Morris’ leaning toward marxism. Mabb, wanting to be more realistic then idealistic, began appropriating Morris’ patterns and painting over parts to uncover the sense of lack to contrast with Morris’ overproduction.

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The recent Mabb exhibit at Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnuis, Italy, “Art in to Everyday”, comprised  several large works featuring the Morris patterns’ politically correct re-stylization fitted with photographs of Khrushchev-era factory buildings in Lithuania. The strong functionalist contours of the buildings geometrically defy their lusty frameworks of swaying green vines, Mabb’s reconstructive sense denuding the branches to leave only twisted twigs cropping up. The imagery gives a sense of modernity in the Soviet ideal of delivering aesthetics to everyday objects through industrialization and mass production. Mabb’s reuse of the Morris patterns too, allude to the concept of surplus production. Only a vague sense of hypocrisy lingers as reality of being forced to work long hours in a noisy expanse of steel and concrete for little wages emerges and there you are loafing about galleries. The balance of Mabb’s social commentary slips from being aesthetic to being loosely disguised vessels of propaganda slogans.

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Marxist ideology has always been reductive and fraught with contradictions. Still Mabb is obsessed with attempting to reinvigorate socialist ideology through sloganeering nostalgia. “Self-Portrait as Rodchenko”, as well as Mabb’s wide use of Soviet Constructivist design, all point toward a misunderstood yearning for idealistic principles. “Self-Portrait as Rodchenko” features Mabb with close-cropped hair and decked out in a Soviet “production suit” made out of one of Morris’ fabric patterns, visualizing himself as the “champion of the revolution.” The Soviet “production suit” would be same uniform donned by millions of soldiers as they enacted repressive invasions throughout Europe and Asia and constitutes the direct contradictions socialist ideology extolls. Mabb’s works in a sense are staged invasions on the art world, bolstering dogma in place of the aesthetic experience. It’s hard to swallow the legitimacy of an artist when the works seem to push the viewer to accept defunct regimes and outmoded ideologies.

-Howard Brad Halverson

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