The Deepest Darkest journeys into Welsh born artist Robin Mason’s autobiographical past in a series of spectacularly surreal works set against Block 336 Gallery’s stark Brutalist backdrop.
Within the basement space Mason’s story begins to unfold against white walls and cold concrete floors. Soaked in the strip light’s harsh glare a disco ball’s reflection meditatively spins a showbiz sparkle over the amusement arcades of yesteryear. Each is outdated, yet their resonance is accentuated against the backdrop.
Every one of them has inescapable charm. A wooden slot machine takes a dime to predict your future; The Super Love Test lets you know you’re the jealous type, while a “Multi Horn – High Fidelity” valve-operated jukebox awaits your choice from a selection of chart hits, like Jimi Hendrix ‘s ‘Purple Haze’ and Altry Inman’s ‘Be Bop Baby’. It’s the barebones of a vintage theme park. In a sense, it is Mason’s childhood fairground; the place where he worked as a young man, watched revellers gamble their fortunes and collected his winnings. Now Mason invites us in to play the same games, follow his footsteps and slowly become enthralled by the curiosities his mind has paced over time and again.
Arrows out number any other symbol in The Deepest Darkest by ten-to-one. Across etchings and paintings, their simple black lines guide us through. Most obviously, a curved white arrow, adorned with colourful gem-like bulbs, leads us from one room to the next. More plainly, scribbled in a font commonly used by American diners, the word “Journey”, in bright neon acrylic paint, illuminates the appropriately titled painting ‘Search and Journey’. Travelling through worlds past and present, real and imagined, the discovery of missed details, the loss of old joys; these are the things Mason obsesses over. Across etchings, astroturf lawns, even mini-museums of exhibitions contained in hut-like structures, he rekindles memories and relives them. Most masterfully, in a behemoth canvass christened ‘The Funfair and the Altarpiece’ worlds touched on across the exhibition all collide.
A homage to Mattias Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece, where Christ is crucified in a contemporary landscape suffering from the same ergotism that caused plague victims’ to hallucinate, ‘The Funfair and the Altarpiece’ is a deliberate clash of Northern European medieval art history’s iconography with Mason’s own theatrical lexicon of pink English rock candy alongside wood-cut etching collected as he relived a childhood journey in 1968 from Porthcawl, South Wales, to the Black Forest in a search for his roots and the core of his identity as an artist.
As the exhibition unfolds, triptychs replace readymade arcades, small sharp works glean out of hidden nooks; colourful orange and pink paints descend on voids left by bold monochrome patterns. Darkness falls, a short animated film plays, and the viewers own journey into the dark forest begins.**
Robin Mason’s The Deepest Darkest is running at Block 336 until Friday, June 7, 2013.
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