An Alice for our time
Review by Corinna Lotz
Usually we don’t look forward to a visit to the dentist. But one practice has gone beyond the call of duty to take patients’ minds off what they are there for.
Simon Godley’s surgery is set amidst an eclectic mix of vintage shops just up the road from Notting Hill tube station and its shop front boasts a charming set of old-fashioned signs. But the real surprise is the striking diptych called Outsiders in the window. Yes, this is a dentist’s with a difference.
The two figures in the painting are tall and slender. They complement each other, both in form and colour. On the left, bursting through a flurry of agitated yellow and lime, is a hooded teenager. It is 17-year-old tagged hoody Ryan Florence, making a mock-gun gesture at Conservative party leader David Cameron on a visit to a Manchester council estate back in 2007. Ryan is set alongside a mysterious violet and black image of a young girl – both of them appear as wayward outsiders, symbols of alienated youth, today and yesterday.
With a group of images he has called Think of England, Richard Walker is searching for the elusive idea of English identity in the 21st century. And he considers the links between then and now: Victorian culture – its morals, the notion of law and order – and today. It is the first London outing for Walker’s Alice series, originally shown in Yorkshire in 2007. Eccentric characters from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland like the Cheshire Cat appear in A Grin without a Cat, Figures of Fun, and Teen Dreams.
Walker endows Alice – already an intriguing young lady – with three new personas: his own grandmother as a child; a contemporary model and the original illustration to Lewis Carroll’s famous book by Sir John Tenniel. Using his skills as a photographer and printmaker, he digitally remodelled their images.
A group of smallphoto-collages Thriller, Fairy Tale and Romance manipulate pictures of superstars David Beckham and Kylie Minogue to explore how far you can blur and stretch an image and still recognise the personality. Insecurity, escapism, the need to be recognised and loved – all these are present in Walker’s musing on today’s image-dominated, celebrity-mad England.
Exploring upstairs, away from the surgery there is an ambiguous and frightening portrait of Margaret Thatcher. Her face melts into a double take, a kind of Jekyll and Hyde, looking out of a smeared brown wall. The words “Your Country Blames You”, are pasted above and below her. It seems that the ghost of the Iron Lady has returned to haunt Britain, but this time collapsing into itself. A wise move not to hang this one in the waiting room!
Think of England is at The Dental Practice, 42 Pembridge Road, W11 3HN until June 4. The public is invited to view the exhibition by appointment. Further information contact Simon Godley at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 020 7229 5542. You can view Outsiders and more paintings at Richard Walker’s website.
20 April 2009