Angus Fairhurst (born 1966, in Kent, England; died in 2008)
Angus Fairhurst was one of the most influential members of the group of artists associated with London’s Goldsmiths College in the late 1980s, who became known as the Young British Artists, setting the tone for contemporary art in the UK over the next two decades. He rose to prominence alongside close friends such as Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas, with whom he often collaborated, and was particularly known for the sharp wit and wry sense of humour which infused his work. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Fairhurst’s practice eluded easy categorisation, encompassing sculpture, painting, performance, photography, video, music, printmaking, drawing and collage. These elements merged into an idiosyncratic and subtle formal vocabulary, their multiple layers of meaning seeming to develop out of an underlying sense of melancholy and the absurdity of everyday life. The artist found a source for his complex multilayered collages in advertising, with its constantly repeated paradigms of female beauty and glamour, and its glossy depictions of luxury. By freeing these images from their representative function, for example by removing all evidence of body and text, Fairhurst revealed his fascination with the aesthetics of surfaces, and the formal apparatus underpinning the mass production of desire in advertising. Much of his work centred in this way on repetition, evoking the existential spirit of Samuel Beckett or Bruce Nauman. He often explored the manner in which loops and superimposition serve as metaphors for the emptiness of day-to-day existence and the mundane rituals of life.
In the context of Take Me To The River, Fairhurst’s series of emptied-out collages range from two to ten superimposed pages from glossy fashion magazines, and all adhere to a simple rule of “all evidence of body and text removed”. The works evoke a poetics of the absurd in the midst of a global culture of the image that fetishizes surface over depth, and envy and desire over integrity. The immediate experience of these collages, which maintain the formal language of advertising albeit without any actual content, is a Pavlovian confusion of triggered desire. However, as ever with much of Fairhurst’s work, beneath the simple logic of reduction and removal there lies a powerful sense of emptiness and the void, giving these works a particular beauty, and a deep sense of melancholy that is completely out of synch with the superficial longing manufactured by consumer culture.