Alex Pollard’s second solo exhibition, Collaborations, is deliberately bold and visually seductive. Referencing 1980s New York pop icons Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and fashion designer Stephen Sprouse, alongside the niche and short-lived 1990s music genre, pet-named ‘Romo’, Pollard establishes a quirky visual lexicon. This is not, however, an irreverent strategy—the exhibition of paintings, ready-mades and hand-made shoes marks a striking development for the artist, already well versed in witty appropriation.
Pollard’s large, candy-coloured oil and polymer paintings, with silkscreen overprinting, pay homage to Warhol and Basquiat’s collaborations. In each work, Pollard mimics these artists’ signature styles, while integrating imagery from his own practice. The painting ‘1996’, 2010 for example, mixes a Basquiat-style grinning face, a roughly painted Robin Hood hat, some preparatory shoe designs (which are neatly arranged on the floor in their completed form), and a revolving display rack (which also occupies the gallery). Each element tumbles helter skelter down the painting in an apparently arbitrary composition. Significantly, the character of Robin Hood has previously appeared in Pollard’s work and this noble thief takes on potent symbolism here, the exhibition hanging as it does, heavily on appropriation.
‘Romo’ was the name given to a musical genre that fell awkwardly by the wayside in the 1990s, party due to its ill-timed appropriation of 1980s New Romantic styling. The significance of Pollard’s references to the genre’s demise draws clear parallels with the subjective nature of art history. Perhaps as Warhol’s once reviled collaborations are now celebrated, he suggests a re-evaluation of ‘Romo’ within the canon of 1990s popular culture. Yet, his canvases offer more than a lesson in cultural re-evaluation—they exhibit a sculptor’s awareness of depth in the layering of paint, a graphic sensibility in his use of text and an awareness of corporate branding’s significance. The word ‘romo’ alone is reminiscent of an aggressive corporate identity, and is featured in ‘Flesh’, 2010, as a highly stylised logo-like emblem at the centre of the painting. A dripping Basquiat-style hand reaches out, groping towards the word ‘Flesh’, which is scrawled across a corner of the pink canvas.
As a summation of logo-saturation and 1980s styling, Pollard’s footwear, a mixture of baseball, basketball and running shoes on the floor of the gallery, is as subtle as the colours they are rendered in. In orange, yellow, pink and green, each one has been laboriously created by hand—unique sculptures that toy with our familiarity with mass-production. These works, titled ‘Romo Running Shoes’, and ‘Romo Baseball and Basketball Shoes’, both 2010, play with these assumptions and surprised the viewer on closer inspection. Plastered across every visible surface we find the names of the forgotten (and never really known) ‘Romo’ brands Hollywood, DexDexTer and Orlando—each shoe has been individually rebranded and reintroduced to both consumer-brand and artistic hierarchies.
In comparison to collaborations between Warhol and Basquiat, and Stephen Sprouse’s later translation of Warhol’s work into fashion items, Pollard’s shoes were made in collaboration with contemporary designer Robert McCaffrey—it is McCaffrey’s shoe designs that are screen-printed on ‘1996’ and ‘Purple Hollywood’, both 2010.
The consumer message is hammered home by the numerous flat-pack shoeboxes stacked on the gallery floor and the CD racks that stand empty alongside them. Representing mass production and the trappings of mass consumption, the readiness of the boxes underscores the ease with which a purchase can be made—as artworks, they are of course for sale too. With a similar sculptural anonymity, the empty CD racks, described as ready-mades, appear like ghostly skeletons, objects quickly to become redundant due to the obsolescence of CDs. Acknowledging the ‘Romo’ theme, the absent CDs make way for mp3s—a medium that, with its ease of distribution, has made the music of bands like Hollywood, DexDexTer and Orlando accessible to new audiences.
Collaborations can be seen as a consumer statement that highlights art’s place within a consumer society. However, Pollard’s refined sensibilities and elaborate visual language push beyond this simplistic reading toward an intelligent discourse on the presentation and malleability of cultural history, which is at once direct and ambiguous.
Mai Blount is a writer based in Glasgow