Standout exhibitions: Gareth Sansom - Art Collector

Issue 59, January - March 2012

This profile appeared in the Standout exhibitions feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2012.

Most artists of Gareth Sansom’s age (he was born in 1939) have fallen into a pattern, the seemingly inevitable trap of repetition, remaining moored to a style or imagery that acts as a safe haven. Sansom is doing the opposite, going mano-a-mano with every aspect of the creative process, not just breaking the rules but simply obliterating them.

Sansom is in the midst of what seems to be an unstoppable gamut of creativity. In 2010 alone, and in a herculean effort, he held indisputably powerful shows at John Buckley Gallery, Milani Gallery and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery and was included in the TarraWarra Modern. He also participated in the Basil Sellers Art Prize and Art Forum Berlin.

After such an outpouring one had to wonder whether he could maintain the standard. Not only did he manage to do so, he excelled the already blockbuster standard with his 2011 showing at John Buckley Gallery, consolidating and expanding both his painterly experimentation and strange sense of narrative.

These works were, without a doubt, the strongest works of what is now a long career spanning almost 50 years. Using certain elements and motifs that he has tackled over the past decade, he set about expanding upon said elements and thus refusing to repeat himself, pushing the boundaries aesthetically, compositionally and technically.

Sansom’s referencing of others in art, film and other contemporary cultural forms is unique, idiosyncratic and, extraordinarily, very youthful. He has grabbed certain moments of history, such as the vorticists, and wrung their necks. But where most artists would move into the mode of postmodern quotation with the use of vorticist geometry, Sansom inserts this aspect as would an alchemist adding a tincture of base metal into some steaming concoction. Rules are a thing of the past here, indeed, it’s not difficult to imagine Sansom at 3am muttering Aleister Crowley’s famous maxim: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”

But for all the madness on display, Sansom is by no means an anarchist on the canvas. Despite the initial impression of chaos, these works are meticulously structured and balanced. This does not reduce the sense of spontaneity the works evoke; even the insertion of strange, sexually provocative self-portraits seem tactically planned, abetting the sense that what we are witnessing in each and every canvas is a self-portrait of a hyperactive mind pondering major issues of mortality, physicality and philosophy.

Indeed, one canvas titled Mr Art meets Mr God is quite clearly a musing on the day the artist meets his maker. Another work is titled Diogenes of Sinope, a reference to the Greek philosopher also known as Diogenes the Cynic who became renowned for carrying a lamp in the daytime, declaring that he was looking for an honest man.

As an overall exhibition it was a cocktail from hell, yet strangely beguiling and one that formed a quiet mantra amongst viewers: “Why isn’t Sansom our next artist for the Venice Biennale?”

Ashley Crawford



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