Matthew Bainbridge’s ‘Rad but Sad’ sort of summed up the Glasgow School of Art degree show. The showcase necessarily took into account that the fire at the Mackintosh building destroyed much student work in addition to the architecture. Wall-mounted photographic representations of the work were all that students were able to include, and ‘Rad but Sad’ was bright, the opposite of solemn, and ironically reflected my general feeling toward the show as a response to the fire: a lot of great work was done by a lot of talented students and it was unfortunate not to be able to see it all as it should have been.
Regardless, I grabbed Bainbridge’s card and checked out his work online, where I was instantly taken by the bright colors and large-scale compositions that play with the idea of seriousness in art. Giant chilis, hotdogs, and other cartoonish, poster-like objects are set against chaotic, blaring color. I couldn’t help thinking of vintage advertisements that used to play before movies at drive-in theaters (I’m thinking of the dancing hotdogs), but also objects like the barber’s pole, money bags, scissors or a syringe hint at playful or even backwardly positive mass-market advertising themes, presented in an overly happy way. They are poster-like but not as straightforward as they might appear at first glance; the messages are mixed.
Grids, scribbles, checks and smears of color serve as backgrounds that have come alive in their own regard, in some cases absorbing the objects that sort of float on top. We sort of lose track of what is in the foreground and what is in the background. This back and forth mirrors Bainbridge’s exploration of communication. Of his work, he writes:
Essentially a parody of art’s own intelligibility, my work aims to exist in oscillation between lookingprofound and being dumb. Wangling the promise of intellectual validation as a carrot on a string, I urge spectators of my work to exert themselves in getting it, tantalising them with that ceaselessly elusive eureka! moment when really, there isn’t a great deal to get at all.
The more we try to put the components, or the ‘pieces’ of the paintings into some sort of order, the more we become uncertain about their placement, their relation to one another, or why, indeed, an object is there at all. Why a barber’s pole? Perhaps the whole point is to ask why, to see if an answer can present itself. Once we know that the artist might be tempting us with what appears intelligent but may actually be nonsense, we might start to interpret all the work as if it is nothing more than nonsense, only to be surprised when something in fact ‘makes sense.’ Or does it?
More information and images of Matthew’s work can be found on his website at cargocollective.com/matthewbainbridge.