Succinct (Sheep) Sabotage: Raw Power is a Risky Business

Posted on September 12, 2010

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Huw Lewis, Mask # 9.

Making crappy art is harder than it looks. Or, more accurately, making crap art is actually really easy. However, attempting to make art that is badly made and intentionally raw, yet somehow totally terrific, is a risky business. Many try, but few succeed.

In the 3 person show, Succinct (Sheep) Sabotage, an eclectic range of paintings, sculptures, mixed media assemblages and a video by Madeleine Cruise, Huw Lewis, and David Peddle are united by a rough and ready aesthetic. Unfortunately, of this trio, only Lewis manages to translate rough construction into raw power.

To test if a raw aesthetic is working, imagine if a bit of polish (the judicious application of skill, time and care) would improve the work. The splashy abstract paintings by Cruise and Peddle are ‘expressive’ at best, at worst they seem hastily executed and unfinished. Some time and care wouldn’t hurt one little bit. The video, Succinct Sheep Sabotage, which all 3 artists take credit for, has a shaky, first-year-art-student exuberance, but descends quickly into an offensive pantomime in which a life-sized Ken doll is force fed decidedly phallic pickled gherkins against his will: a clumsy and disturbing visual metaphor for oral rape.  Some brutal editing and a bit of polish might actually make this work watchable.

Huw Lewis, Cat Mask.

But if Lewis’s solo works, especially his suite of creepy masks, were precisely constructed instead of just hanging together by threads, they would loose all of their macabre magic.

The deliberate rawness of Lewis’s masks evokes a kind of primal authority. They seem like ritual objects from a 21st century tribal cult, or props used by a psycho-psychoanalyst to probe the darkest recesses of the collective unconsciousness (think Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow in Batman Begins).

Huw Lewis, Elephant Mask.

In Lewis’s Elephant Mask, roughly cut eyeholes are rimmed with ragged red stitches rendering them permanently bloodshot. This bizarre piece of headgear looks like the unholy lovechild of a bourbon soaked Ku Klux Klan grand master and an animistic shaman pumped up on peyote.

Lewis’s doll, The Loved One, seems both unloved and unlovely. Dirty, torn, abandoned and exposed, he perches on a plinth with his wedding tackle held on by a few haphazard threads; he is literally coming apart at the seams.

In these pieces, the appalling quality of Lewis’s stitching is essential, if his tailoring was precise his artworks would be lifeless; impotent. As it is, they are disturbing, intriguing and compelling. They exert an almost magnetic pull; raw power at its potent best.

Tracey Clement

Succinct (Sheep) Sabotage is on at Horus and Deloris until September 15, 2010.

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Posted in: The Bad, The Ugly