Tony Garifalakis: The Doomsday Prophet - Art Collector

Issue 52, April - June 2010

Tony Garifalakis is looking forward to 2013. Why? It’s when the world will have failed – again – to end like it was supposed to he tells Ashley Crawford.

They peer out of deep, stygian darkness, guns and knives at the ready, eyes bloodshot and menacing, their world cast into an unmitigated blackness. These are the end-times and Tony Garifalakis is having fun.

It all started, rather aptly, in Gotham City when Garifalakis held a studio residency at ISCP in New York in 2008. Glossy magazines were the first victims, fashion models and celebrities abruptly assailed with the hideous ectoplasmic sheen of black spray paint – Condé Nast filtered through Aleister Crowley. And then they grew. Movie posters pilfered from Chinatown or rock posters grabbed cheaply from eBay, wherever and whatever, as long as they held at least one element that Garifalakis could use, one aspect that could twist them from soapbox into sacrilege.

Yet for all the grotesquerie, these are strangely beguiling and highly seductive images hinting at surrealist montage. Like Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining, they pilfer the tropes of pop and turn them inside out. They are the cinematic slash of the knife in the dark.

Garifalakis has long been the master of the macabre. He was gothic well before gothic was hip. His drawings of skulls with long flowing hair, his death metal portraits with regal bearing, his installations hinting at terrorist mayhem are all rendered with meticulous skill, leading to inclusion in exhibitions in St Louis, New York, Manchester, Rotterdam, Quebec, Athens, Dublin and Venice, where his work was banned by the church. And interest in his work continues to grow. This year alone he has three solo exhibitions, Bad Scene, at Uplands Gallery in Melbourne and, later in the year, shows in New York and Mexico City and he is curating a group show titled Omega at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery at the Victorian College of the Arts.

Garifalakis’s work constantly shifts in terms of media – drawings, sculpture, montage, installation – but the central themes, aspects of conspiracy, anarchy, armageddon are consistent. But Garifalakis sees them as, if anything, life-affirming.

“The subject of the apocalypse is something I have addressed in my work, most notably in the two pieces Doomsdays (2006) and Non – Fiction (2009),” he says. “Doomsdays is a collection of dates, in my lifetime, that the world was supposed to end but didn’t. It was quite remarkable to find there are 54 dates that one group or another expected the world to end in this short time.

“Non – Fiction is a large sculpture of a paperback book I came across in an op shop titled Doomsday 1999, I was interested in how this document, referring to recent history, had been rendered absolutely useless and mute by the advent of time. I thought I’d like to take it out of the op-shop context and introduce it to the gallery environment in the form of a giant monolith, on a soapbox plinth, in an attempt to restore it to its former hysterical glory. The result is an absurd and paranoid testament to the follies and failures of humankind.

“My interest in the subject of the apocalypse does not come from a negative point of view, I’m not interested in announcing that the end is nigh. In fact I think I come from the opposite end of the scale and am critical of this type of thinking. I see these two works as life affirming, in fact I often refer to them as my feel-good pieces. I’ve noticed books on the advent of 2012 appearing in bookstores everywhere, this is the next big date on the doomsday calendar.

“I look forward to 2013 when I can make a companion piece to the Doomsday 1999 sculpture.”

Books, film and popular culture in general are devoured by Garifalakis as he seeks source material. “I’m always reading – at the moment I’m trying to get through the cannon of conspiracy literature. I’ve recently reread Cathy O’Brien’s Trance-Formation of America – for a book that’s labelled non-fiction, it is certainly one of the strangest documents I’ve come across.”

Some viewers find Garifalakis’s work disconcerting, but that, he says, is not his intention. “It is never my goal or intention to make my work uncomfortable or disturbing to viewers, I really don’t see the point in that – it’s like shooting yourself in the foot!”

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