Ashley Bickerton Obituary

In the 1980s, Ashley Bickerton conquered the New York art world, leading a group of artists that included Jeff Koons and Haim Steinbach in the neo-geo movement, a style that criticized rampant consumerism. . His series of aluminum and steel wall sculptures Tormented Self-Portraits (1987-88), lacquered with corporate logos ranging from Fruit of the Loom to Citibank, became the totem of this get-rich-quick era.

Bickerton, who died aged 63 from motor neurone disease, however, knew such fame was fickle and, to the astonishment of many, in 1993 he stuck to Bali.

There, he begins a new chapter in his art, far from the eyes of critics and curators. “You’re just treated like a taxonomic artifact, like a butterfly with a pin through it,” Bickerton said of museums and art journals. “You get tagged, indexed, and engaged in a ‘historical record’ build, and then it all starts again. It’s suffocating in every way. »

Instead, inspiration came from more prosaic sources: On a bus traveling to Acapulco on a trip to Mexico, Bickerton saw a brick wall painted orange and purple. “It was perfect… what could be more perfect than a colored wall to sit on a The result was a series of steel, aluminum and resin sculptures, titled Wall-Wall, featuring blocks of primary color resembling bricks and vinyl text poetically describing natural landscapes. he sat on the shore with his wife as the tide went out near their house the ocean dumped a huge amount of wreckage, natural and human waste This rubbish said all it meant about the report from man to capital and nature.His Flotsam paintings ended up being dystopian reimaginings of the seascape genre, with pieces of collected trash embedded in the turquoise oil paint.

Island life did not dull the artist’s social satire. Later, Bickerton, once described by writer Paul Theroux as “the connoisseur of non-belonging”, embarked on a series of paintings featuring the character of “Blue Men”, repulsive expatriate Westerners. Their complexion is a knowing nod to the exoticism of Paul Gauguin’s 19th century Tahitian paintings.

In PST2 (2018), Bickerton shows an obese man laughing on a moped while two miserable local women ride in the back; in The Bar (2018), two men sit at a table strewn with empty beer bottles while bored women smoke beside them. Each burlap rests in a kitschy wooden frame inlaid with mother-of-pearl. “My work has always been about identity in one form or another,” Bickerton said. “But, given my old-fashioned age, race, gender and orientation, it wasn’t really encouraged to be seen or discussed that way.”

Conceived on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Bickerton was born in Barbados; his mother, Yvonne, was a behavioral psychologist and his father, Derek Bickerton, was a traveling linguist renowned for his study of Creole and pidgin languages. His parents avoided the international schools favored by other expats and placed him in local schools. “My brother and I were often the only white kids in our school, in Africa, the Caribbean and Guyana in South America… During my childhood, I came to speak five dialects of English, none of which was understandable to the next one.”

In 1971, the family finally settled in Hawaii, where Ashley honed her surfing skills. At 21, of American nationality, he enrolled in the fine arts course at the California Institute of the Arts.

In 1984 Bickerton moved to New York, where he had his first solo exhibition, a series of text paintings, at White Columns, before undertaking the Independent Study program at the Whitney Museum of American Art a year later. . Although he was featured in a group show in 1986 at the Sonnabend Gallery with Koons, Peter Halley and Meyer Vaisman, Bickerton’s disillusionment with the industry grew. Donald Judd’s boxes, he complained, were “discussed in terms of a vessel that contained God. But what was it after all? It was a fucking brand. These things are exchanged in a pissing contest between oligarchs. Later he asked, “What was I doing locking myself into an island feedback loop that only lived to silently reflect a societal moment?”

Bickerton first moved to the Brazilian state of Bahia, but the waves weren’t good enough and it proved too difficult to make art, so he went to Bali, building a studio on a mountain near Uluwatu on the Indonesian island. When he wasn’t surfing, he was making art, and in 1997 he showed four paintings in a solo exhibition at the White Cube in London, including The Patron, which depicted a drooling art collector slumped on a wooden sofa. masturbating. He exhibits regularly in commercial galleries at the London merchant, as well as in New York with Sonnabend and Lehmann Maupin. More recently, Bickerton was represented by Gagosian, but institutional recognition has far outstripped him, with only a few tours in group museum exhibitions over the decades.

In 1994, however, Damien Hirst curated Some Went Mad, Some Ran Away… at the Serpentine Gallery in London, a group exhibition meditating on life and death which traveled to museums in Helsinki, Hanover and Chicago. Having himself marinated a shark in formaldehyde a year earlier, Hirst included a sculpture by Bickerton titled Solomon Island Shark, made that year, which, wryly exotic, featured a rubber replica of the giant fish hoisted onto a rope and covered in coconuts.

Hirst, whom Bickerton considered an “obnoxious little monster” before they became friends, would again interfere with Bickerton’s career 23 years later, when the British artist opened the Newport Street Gallery, a non-profit space in London. Bickerton’s 2017 retrospective was quickly followed by an even larger survey later that year at the Flag Art Foundation in New York. The audience for these shows was divided. “There are those who loved what I did in New York in the 80s and early 90s, and they think I lost the plot when I ran away to Indonesia,” said Bickerton. “An equal number of people knew about the work I had done after I arrived in Bali who saw my previous work and said, ‘Hmm, boring’.” In truth, though varied, the two eras were united by a wicked humor and an anthropological interest in how people interact with their environment.

Bickerton is survived by his wife, Cherry Saraswati, his daughter, Io, and his two sons, Django and Kamahele, as well as his brother, James, and sister, Julie.

• Ashley Bickerton, artist, born May 26, 1959; passed away on November 30, 2022

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