Steve Bishop’s Creatures

On display at the Saatchi Gallery until the end of the month is an exhibition of “British Art Now” titled Newspeak: a selection of “up and coming British artists” from the extensive collection of Charles Saatchi.

Amidst the usual YBA-inspired pieces of cardboard, Sellotape, bin liners and plasticine statues, I noticed a few artworks that attracted my attention, whether or not we remember them in a few years’ time.

The names I would like to highlight are William Daniels – oil paintings so textured they look like they are made of clay, paper or foil – Tasha Amini – a modern and romantic vision playing with space and pastel panels –Robert Fry – modern Bacon with diluted body parts – Maaike Schoorel – hardly-there oil sketches of silhouettes. Entirely personal selection.

But the one that stayed in my mind weeks after I first visited Newspeak is Steve Bishop and his taxidermied animals morphed in concrete oversized designer perfume bottles. The hybrids bear the fashionable names of Christian Dior or Jean-Paul Gaultier, in reference to the fragrance used for the shape of the statues.

“I liked that they were a dual image: on one hand it’s a bottle, on the other it’s a figure. I saw the taxidermy and the concrete bottle as two figures melding into each other, and also as two objects overlapping. Taxidermy is as much of an object as a coffee cup or any other thing. But they were white and there’s an idea of purity involved, and when you see the fur matted and embedded in concrete it’s quite jarring.”

A more recent work is “It’s hard to make a stand”, the statue of a horse whose head is covered with a fur coat, like a defaced memorial. In both cases, it is the mix of material and animal fur that interests me and the different ways of creating a new animal with human traits that meets modern marketing.

It is also remarkable that taxidermy has recently gained popularity and recognition as an art form, through the works of other Contemporary British artists Polly Morgan, or Tim Noble and Sue Webster -here.

Whether you like it or not – this is what British art looks like these days, so worth a visit, if merely informative. I will be looking forward to the forthcoming “Shape of things to come” on contemporary sculpture, next month at the Saatchi Gallery.

Steve Bishop, Jean-Paul Gaultier – Classique (Arctic Fox), 2008. Taxidermied fox, concrete, paint. 147 x 53 x 47 cm (with base).

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