Edward Ressle Gallery is pleased to present “Bloody Hell: An Exploration of the Colour Red”. This thematic exhibition investigates the complex duality of red and the condition of medicinal subjects in contemporary art. It will feature artworks by Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, Sterling Ruby and Christopher Wool. The exhibition will be on view from September 29 through November 5, 2016.
Red, as a signifier, paradoxically exists in between love and hatred. Emotions attached to the colour are multifaceted. Red can be linked to symbols such as vitality, affection, or passion; on the other end of the spectrum it can also imply danger, anxiety, or death. Given the colour’s saturated, invigorating, and compelling nature, red abets dramatic narratives to the artworks. When red collides with physiological forms, hospital settings or pharmaceutical items, it intensifies the questions about life and death.
Damien Hirst’s Duck Liver, 2000 is a continuation of the artist’s iconic series, The Last Supper. Damien Hirst uses pharmaceutical packaging and replaces the medicine brands with the names of traditional foods in British Café culture. By leaving the pharmaceutical details intact and adding the registered trademark symbol (®), the artist amalgamates food and medicine on this unique silkscreen on aluminium work. Damien Hirst has developed a long interest in presenting clinical and medicinal objects since the late 1980s, which is demonstrated in many of his other series, such as The Medicine Cabinets. This artwork also embodies the pop commercialism of Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans paintings and the minimalism of the British painter Alan Uglow. Damien Hirst continually explores the role of science and religion while passing comment on the pharmaceutical industry. He states, “I can’t understand why most people believe in medicine and don’t believe in art, without questioning either.” Hirst underlines power of the pharmaceutical industry and our unremitting faith within it. With conscious vulgarity, Damien Hirst also combines the notions of high and low culture. Duck Liver, as a slight misnomer to pâté de foie gras, dismisses French fine dining, highlighting the contrast between commodity and luxury product.
Richard Prince’s Mystery Nurse, 2009 is an archetypal example of the artist’s distinctive conceptual and aesthetic oeuvre. With shifting tones of crimson, maroon, and burgundy reds, the painting’s background vividly surrounds a female nurse. In the celebrated Nurse Paintings series, Prince appropriates from the pulp fiction genre of medical romance novels. As the series progressed, Prince realized that the nurse figure had an archetypal appeal to many people, evoking a sense of comfort and protection. The masking of the nurse’s face, as Prince explains in an interview with Interview Magazine, was a way of “making it all the same and getting rid of the personality.” A similar theme of anonymity can be found in Philip Guston’s figurative paintings from the late 1960s which depict characters dressed in ku klux klan masks. Seen in both artists’ work, the censorship of facial features limits the narrative of the work, thus allowing for further exploration in both form and technique.
In Sterling Ruby’s sculpture, Three Drops, 2011, softness substitutes hardness and amorphousness replaces rigidity. Unlike his earlier solid sculptures, this work’s red fabric-stuffed pouches, shaped as drops, consecutively dangle, flop, and pile up. A new order imposes itself, namely the order of liquidity. The drops, in the same way as a pillow does, evoke a sense of home-like, maternal, and supportive comfort, yet the colour boldly strikes the eyes. At first glance with its humble material, the sculpture seems playful, soft and humorous, but with time dimensions of danger and terror unravel. Looking closely, one can see grimy stains from years of use, reminiscent of Mike Kelley’s stuffed animals. Three Drops, 2011 is also akin to Claes Oldenburg’s humorous soft sculptures as they share an exaggerated scale, bold colours, a naïve form, and a provocative blend of the ubiquitous and the uncanny.
Christopher Wool’s Untitled, 1984 is a rare early work created during the time when the artist experimented with painting while others proclaimed the medium as dead. While working as a studio assistant to the sculptor Joel Shapiro, Christopher Wool began his contemplation of abstraction. Suppressing overt imagery completely and moving toward a uniformity, Wool paints in a dedicated palette of blacks and grays and, in rare cases, colour. Untitled, 1984 depicts a splash of red paint that is raw and densely expressed as if on a forensic blood slide. The weathered and stained texture of the painting connotes congealing blood, both forbidding and seductive. By restraining colour choices and experimenting with techniques, Untitled, 1984 demonstrates Wool’s focus on the process over the product. Similar to Robert Ryman’s approach to painting, Wool states, “I became more interested in how to paint it, than what to paint.”
Speaking through symbols and hidden information, “Bloody Hell: An Exploration of the Colour Red” explores perceptions of the colour red and its conceptual potentials. With a speculative juxtaposition of artworks, the exhibition seeks to evoke the multi-faceted affinities of red while visiting a new relationship between tonality, identity, scale, and context.
Damien Hirst Richard Prince Sterling Ruby Christopher Wool
All Images © the Artist