Foreword from Listen To The World
Brexit has been one of the foremost issues in today’s political and economic climate. Large numbers of us often forget that economics, along with politics, are a few “products” of culture. Therefore, they should not be treated as a singular entity, but as an integral part that interconnects with other variables; much like what Brendan realised in his latest exhibition (which is discussed in further detail further on). Furthermore, LTTW also conducted an interview with Brendan to discuss in further detail his views on current socio-political climates, arts, technology, patterns of thinking and behaviour, science and spirituality, etc.
Humans define and seek Truth based upon their own cultural terms (norms, ideology, philosophy, science, etc) and this is also the case with Power. As part of being human, we never stop our search for meanings of life, and finding truth is certainly a fundamental aspect of this. As we see the world today become increasingly polarized, conflicts still exist today due to our lack of understanding in the diversity of Truths as we see them.
Serrano Sianturi; one of Sacred Bridge’s founders kept reminding us that “Human is still, by nature, a territorial being; when the territory is felt threatened, response is taken in many different and sometimes irrational ways. The territory itself is not just physical, but also in abstract forms like science, economy, technology, ideology, etc. In these abstract territories, domination and dependency “co-exist”; the unproportional weight between these two has been the fundamental reason behind the tensions, conflicts and wars among us.”
The great political divide between globalist and nationalist has become the central theme of global politics today. All humans still share important experiences, values, and interests with no individual or race inherently superior to others. Organising intercultural dialog in order to find a collective concern and taking the necessary actions to realise these are more practical and rational solutions than conflict and war.
Some of us see diversity as a threat because of the fundamental human instincts; preference to dominate when one feels threatened rather than to use differences as a way to enrich other’s and the world around us. History teaches us that establishing mutual understanding and respect are two fundamental steps to move beyond “Self-Interest” and “Culture Wars”. The Arts have been powerful vehicles that have successfully broken barriers of uncommon grounds amongst us, which have allowed humans to live in peace and harmony.
Truth and Power reminds us not only about breaking the barriers but also about empowering the diminishing role of arts in society and its relevancy to respond to current issues (social, economic, political). Brendan’s exhibition is certainly a rare platform today that can perhaps give us clues and perspectives into finding solutions to our problems; not only for the future of the United Kingdom but also for the global world. The exhibition took place at the Ringcross community centre in The London borough of Islington.
Truth and Power: Art from the Brexit Era – through the Eyes of Brendan Pickett
By Jason Noghani
Brendan Pickett and I went to a Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition at the Tate modern in 2017, and although we were initially impressed by some of his work (particularly the abstract landscapes realised through his extensive use of photographic techniques), the most recent work of his did not leave the most positive impact on us. In the immediate aftermath of Britain’s EU referendum vote in 2016, Tillmans response was an evidently pro-remain propagandist series of works, making his feelings clear in the work he created. Although I myself voted remain and have considerable apprehension about leaving the EU, I found Tillmans work antithetical to the true function of art. No two people ever experience anything alike, and this is particularly the case with abstract art, of which every artist should take heed of at the onset of a creation. This openness to interpretation is subsequently thought provoking, teaching us to think independently in the process, and the various interpretations of any work of art underlie the potential art has to unite people. Politics on the other hand is inevitably divisive, which emphasises the important role art plays in overcoming these differences, something of which Tillmans failed to observe in his 2017 exhibition, and something of which was the driving force behind Brendan’s magnificently exuberant exhibition in London this month, aptly titled Truth and Power: Art from the Brexit Era.
Brendan is one of the most brilliant and vibrant minds I have met, and during the years of our friendship, we have regularly had stimulating and inspiring conversations exploring a variety of subjects, particularly concerning the sociocultural and political upheavals of our time, and how to respond accordingly as artists. Deeply philosophical by nature, Brendan’s inquisitive and rigorous approach to his work leaves no stone unturned, as he examines the cause and effect behind every decision he makes, and how they bear significance to the bigger picture. This rationalistic and unbiased approach qualifies Brendan as a modern-day classical liberal, enabling him to observe world affairs from a stoic perspective, whilst simultaneously upholding the noble values that made the UK the progressive and visionary country it became over the past few centuries.
True to his time, Brendan’s art is a transfusion of old and new, and addresses the recent backlash against post-modernist thinking – namely, how we can continue to create art of intrinsic meaning and value without succumbing to the nihilistic tendencies that we have somehow somnambulated into. The result is an art that could not exist without the various innovations of the 20th century, yet has the depth and consideration that earlier art is still revered for. Brendan personally advocates the notion that “all art is collage,” something of which is perhaps unavoidable at a time where we seemingly “know everything,” although Brendan’s take on this approach shows that innovative and forward-thinking results can be achieved if one is still daring in their approach. The majority of the paintings in this exhibition were inspired by Cubism, tinged with cartoonish elements (Brendan is also a brilliant illustrator and writer of comic books), and a richly psychedelic colour palette that propels the mainly gritty subject matter into transcendent realms of experience – perhaps the glimmer of hope in these times of uncertainty!
The work touches on potentially controversial subject matter, although this is more a reflection of how hysterical political correctness has become rather than the issues Brendan addresses. The paintings were curated into five groups which were interrelated with one another, each containing bold distinguishable qualities that captivated the attendees and drew their attention to particular points of focus. The first group of paintings, simply called Brexit, observed one of the most controversial political issues of our time from an evocatively universal perspective, which in itself renders its necessity for making this work known to the wider public (particularly in Britain!). In Fear of Being Called Racist and Working Class Man Walks Home, issues concerning misrepresentation and stigmatisation of the working class are addressed, reflecting the persecution mania and hardships many typically associated “leave” voters have had to contend with, despite only acting with their best intentions at heart. Satan Loves Politics and One of Two Satanic Choices Does Not a Democracy Make reflect the darkness at the heart of the political sphere, which perhaps could be summarised as the inevitable division that arises as a consequence of having to decide between two equally bad choices – something frequently found in modern day politics! The latter painting also pays homage to The Matrix as Satan is seen holding a blue pill and a red pill in each hand; a popular recurring theme in today’s online culture of “woke” folk being “red-pilled” and all that. It should be noted that these were the only two paintings on display that did not follow a Cubist format, although the anomalous quality Luciferian beings possess made these works perfectly compliment the others, and made them stand out – Satan’s glaring snarl could certainly be felt whenever he caught our eye!
The second group of paintings are of Conceptual Portraits, all conceived within the Cubist framework, which include portraits of controversial figures such as Russian president Vladimir Putin and provocative right-leaning online philosopher Stefan Molyneux. Soldier Waves Goodbye consolidates the political influence of this particular group, conceived from the contrasting perspective of those on the receiving end of today’s politically instigated decisions, and the poignancy of this particular painting illustrates the grief and despair many soldiers have to endure as a result of these disastrous decisions. This latter painting and Self Portrait of Depression serve as a link to the third group: Male Empowerment. The works in Male Empowerment explore the currently controversial theme of masculinity in today’s world; namely, the perceived notions of “toxic masculinity” in climates of extreme gynocentricism, the plights of despair and depression that afflict many young men today, and the assertion of the importance of a resurgence of the divine masculine archetype that would serve to empower young men who currently feel that odds are stacked against them. The themes in this group explore masculinity from concrete (Liberal Guilt and Male Loneliness) to symbolic perspectives (the male archetype depicted in shapes and representations such as Atlas and Janus), and the contrasting stances intently express the current plight of masculinity with fervent conviction. The content in this group serves as a link to the fourth group: Divine Truth & Power.
Divine Truth & Power takes the exhibition into the esoteric and philosophical realms of thought, which clarifies the rigorous breadth of the explorations undertaken by Brendan. A stunningly elegant Dionysus depicts the Greek God through the Cubist lens whilst still retaining the qualities of Ancient Greek design and architecture, and this painting is framed alongside two paintings of the Venus archetype. These three paintings are perhaps the most outwardly spiritual of the exhibition, given the Deistic themes and elusive qualities apparent in them, and this sense of freedom and aspiration can be discerned in the vibrantly abstract qualities of these works; each imbued with a rich array of colours and elegant attention to details, subsequently demonstrating a commanding prowess and craftsmanship.
The final group consisted of some of the most recent work of Brendan’s, and was titled Will to Power after Friedrich Nietzsche. This group contained what I feel was the masterpiece of the exhibition, a vast montage of contrasting themes and images called Allegory of Power. Brendan’s Allegory can be interpreted in innumerable ways; much like everything else on display, and the bold and confrontational infusion of subject matter is impossible not to be captivated by. Incorporations of images such as the England flag could stir rage in one and feelings of hope and aspiration in another, and the considerate assimilation of such criteria addresses the importance of provoking uncomfortable questions through art in our time. The two most recent works were Gaslighting and The Process of Epistemology, which were completed over the past year, and are testament to the continual evolution and progress of Brendan’s art. Gaslighting develops the function of Janus, in this instance representing the mass confusion induced through the uncertainty of information reliability in the age of “fake news,” and The Process of Epistemology is a brooding somewhat introspective work, quite unlike anything else at the exhibition, and one which I feel looks towards the future; something of which was realised through a renewed approach to Cubist practices after a short hiatus. Coupled with the paintings in this group is a flow-chart called Diagram of Power, which overviews the intricate thought processes that went into this extensive project. When one takes the time to examine the content of this diagram, the brilliant mind behind the work can be seen clearly, and something of which should not be hidden given the riches that were on display!
The multitalented Brendan not only exhibited his paintings to the public, he also recited excerpts from his latest novel Clickbait Rats, accompanying the recitations on the piano. Clickbait Rats is a tongue-in-cheek dystopian reflection of our time, exaggerating the behaviours commonly associated with tendencies attributed to the decline of Western values. The vernacular of the text evokes qualities seen in the work of William Burroughs, whilst the jazz-infused harmonies on the piano drew inspiration from the readings of Jack Kerouac, also providing a light relief from the sardonic nature of the text, and giving the performance a tinge of black comedy – perhaps a reflection of how ridiculous our modern-day malaise actually is in the grander scheme of things! It is also interesting to note that Brendan’s approach to writing reflects his approach to art in that his treatment of Beat-inspired literature in Clickbait Rats is examined with equal authenticity to his use of Cubism in the exhibition.
The audience who attended the final night of the exhibition were an intimate gathering of mainly close friends and family, all of whom are distinctly unique individuals in their own right (Brendan’s open-mindedness and fascinating personality have drawn a wide variety of people within his circle) and all of whom bonded through the shared experience of this wonderful event. This reinforced the unifying power that true art possesses; that shared experiences overwhelmingly overcome the petty differences we endure in daily life. I had the honour of sharing this creative journey with Brendan over the past few years, as he continuously shared his thoughts and creative process with me, and therefore I was fully aware of what I was to experience at the exhibition, although seeing these works on display for the first time has had a lasting impact since. To conclude, this is art that needs wider exposure due to its relevance, beauty and imagination, and I truly hope that Brendan receives the recognition he deserves in the foreseeable future! This really is art of our time – a feast for the eyes and mind!
Click here to purchase the exhibition catalogue.