Mitchell Fine Art, Brisbane.
86 Arthur Street, Fortitude Valley QLD 4006.
Exhibition Dates: 21st September – 15th October 2016.
Following celebrated and sold-out shows in Australia and the US, internationally acclaimed Australian Pop painter Johnny Romeo returns with his most ambitious and electrifying series yet, WASTELAND. An intoxicating brew of country Western mayhem and gaudy Grindhouse intensity, the series offers audiences an exhilarating romp through Romeo’s twisted Neo-Expressionist Pop visions of the Wild West. WASTELAND sees Australia’s King of Pop take his explosive unique style into exciting new frontiers, incorporating elements of sculpture and strip-mall signage to create a dazzlingly psychedelic assault on the senses.
Death, lust and urban decay abound in Romeo’s anarchic Western sugar-rush, as vintage muscle cars, vicious vixens and long-horned skulls wreak havoc across the canvas in Johnny Romeo’s inimitable graphic style. Old worlds collapse as former friends like Batman and Superman turn against each other in fierce battle, symbols of a bleak Pop dystopia where all sense and meaning has been lost to greed and excess.
The series bursts at the seams with Johnny Romeo’s most expressive colour arrangements to date, confronting the onlooker with a devilishly manic energy. Transforming the brutal, sun-scorched desert of the Western frontier into a neon wasteland of ferocious, acid-drenched hues, Romeo depicts a lawless world where punk rock rogues and sharpshooters run the town. Cowboys and lone rangers share the spotlight with vagrants and barroom bards, each revelling in the ensuing chaos as they build a new world upon the ashes of the old.
Amidst the gleeful mayhem of Johnny Romeo’s Pop wasteland, there is a sense of youthful nostalgia that courses through the series. Comic book icons such as Iron Man and Captain America spring to life on the canvas, bringing to mind the superhero toy figurines of Romeo’s childhood. By re-appropriating nostalgic elements into a contemporary Pop context, Romeo examines our collective loss of innocence, as the heroes of our youth and the captors of our imagination become subsumed into the realm of crass commercialism.
In WASTELAND, nostalgia also ingeniously works its way into Johnny Romeo’s renowned approach to textual arrangements. Drawing inspiration from his own adolescent memories of visiting newsagent comic book stands, the artist’s paintings evoke the larger-than-life covers of classic Golden Age comics. Romeo’s bold word assemblages and bombastic hip hop slogans act like high-impact comic book titles, demanding the audiences’ attention with pithy Pop observations that are as much Run DMC as Stan Lee.
An avid fan of rap music, Johnny Romeo cleverly subverts our associations with comic books and country Western imagery by juxtaposing them with the grittiness of graffiti art and hip-hop. The influence of classic rap can be seen through Romeo’s Pop savvy use of phrases such ‘Dolla Holla’ and ‘Big Poppa’, lending his works a rhythmic punchiness and urban edginess. Johnny Romeo’s series masterfully eschews the earnestness of cartoon heroes for the street-smart swagger of seasoned rappers, creating a spaghetti Western Pop dystopia where the hardened kick-snare of hip hop beats soundtracks the unforgiving wilderness of the new frontier.
Romeo’s thrilling foray into the Wild West also sees the highly celebrated artist venturing into fresh new territory. Wall sculptures of melting celebrity portraits provide a tangible and nightmarishly surreal dimension to the series. Resembling the withering edifices of billboards left to rot in a barren landscape, the sculptures ruminate on the dark recesses of celebrity worship. The addition of Romeo’s strip mall signs reinforce Romeo’s art practice as an active Pop participant as he seeks to further obscure the lines between art and advertising. Inspired by the concrete jungles of LA, the Postmodern mall signs combine celebrity portraiture, household brand names and cheeky word play to offer a bleakly comedic reflection on rampant commercialism and its eroding effects on identity.
WASTELAND is a raucous and rollicking journey through the wild frontiers of Pop culture. Brimming with fiery fields of colour, bare-knuckled urgency and an undeniable punk attitude, Johnny Romeo has a crafted a Neo-Expressionist Pop dystopia where there are no heroes – just pistol-toting desperadoes and has-beens keen to forge a new life as they hurtle towards oblivion. The series sees Australia’s leading Pop artist kick down the bar door of the Pop establishment with the garish swagger of a maverick hell-bent on setting the world ablaze.
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