Michael Coppelov's ‘Poetic. Trucks. Flood.’ at Husk Gallery, London

Exhibition: Poetic. Trucks. Flood.

Artist: Michael Coppelov

Gallery: Husk, London

Dates: 26th October - 16th November 2018

Website (for images): Exhibition images here

Review by Sarah White

Poetic. Trucks. Flood, the recent solo exhibition in London by Michael Coppelov, gains its title from the navigational system ‘What Three Words’. This system has been created to accurately and quickly find and share locations by dividing the world into 3m by 3m squares. Each square is then given a unique three-word address. These are disparate words chosen for their neutrality, but no word is neutral, and instead of being impartial, meaning is brought into being as these isolated words are situated in relation to one another. Michael’s paintings can be broken down into the sum of their parts (like the words ‘poetics, trucks, flood’). They are worlds constructed through the repetition of disparate parts and their relation to one another. Figures, objects and locations are stitched together to form a solid, structured world, each re-defined in relation to the whole. Michael paints people he knows and places he’s been, knitted together with the filmic fantasy of places he has never set foot in, and people he has never met. The disparate parts of the paintings hold the weight and frivolity of childhood memory, family relationships, fantasy, and pivotal moments in his adult life. Yet when you knit these signifiers of pleasure and utopia together the images of paradise deflate into melancholy.

The allure of film and of fiction has always been in part due to the way it meets the needs of the viewer to entertain belief in a different world, and of the artist to exercise the creative autonomy which brings an alternate world into being. In ‘Method As Fiction’ Jon K Shaw and Theo Reeves-Evison probe the realm of fiction to observe the very real effects it has on the world regardless of any determination of it as real or unreal. Michael describes the construction of his recent paintings as synonymous with the building of a different world: one where he decides who can enter and exit. One thinks of border controls and boundary lines, and the human desire to protect a space and to protect oneself. An impulse which can be given agency within the imaginative realm of fiction, and the materiality of paint.

Michael’s fascination with Hollywood coincides with this conscious entertaining of belief in the objects and characters of this fantasy. Dominating the paintings are the over-sized busts of iconic ‘celebrity’ figures, holding a cigarette, and recast into the body of a cardboard sculpture based on the architecture of a Soviet bus stop. The choice of characters is disorientating: plucking from Michael’s childhood imagination the troubled, chain-smoking, fictional figures of Uncle Buck and Maria Elena, and setting them against a portrait of music icon Grace Jones. Within the paintings the characters are eternalised into a monument or statue. They have been subsumed: their faces and bodies fused with, and engraved into architectural structures. Now they hover, float and peer, God-like, yet powerless, down from the heights onto the mortals contained within their stomachs. Grace Jones’ appearance as a cactus in Michael’s paintings is indicative of a recent interview with her:                         
    ‘ “People always like to make me seem taller than I am,” immediately bringing to mind the iconic cover of 1985’s Island Life, where her oiled, outstretched limbs transform her into this statuesque, towering life force.’
And one cannot escape the reference in Michael’s paintings to her music video Slave To The Rhythm: where Jones' monumental head sits atop the desert landscape and her Robotic mouth opens to let out a procession of cars.

Michael’s paintings are reminiscent of 80’s computer games: flat colours combined with harsh shadows and highlights. The dark grey outlines of cacti are like cardboard cut-outs which protrude from below and behind the hot tubs. The walls of colour in the paintings are suggestive of a green screen, or perhaps the fake-sky in the Truman show. They allude to the sense of a surface: the feature wall of a living room, the sand on a beach, or an oppressive nights’ sky, where everything has turned the same colour. Like that riddle, the one where everything inside the house is the same colour, and then you are asked what colour the stairs are but you forget that it’s actually a bungalow, and there are no stairs.

Michael’s paintings present a nonsensical, yet uncannily coherent world, consistent to its own rules. The confusion between reality, fiction and legend is amplified not only in the choice of characters but throughout the whole experience of the image. The paintings may appear crude but they are far from naive, demanding a deeply affective and uneasy response. Meaning is brought into being through the holding together and repetition of disparate signifiers of fiction and reality.

1.    Dazed, 17/09/15 Available at: www.dazeddigital.com... (Accessed: 10 November 2018)

Sarah White is a London based artist working across installation, sculpture and movement research practices. She also works as an artist mentor and researcher with Morphe Arts. www.sarahwhite.org.uk