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First retrospective exhibition of Angus Fairhurst

June 8, 2010 by Kay

M Museum Leuven presents the first selected retrospective exhibition of artist Angus Fairhurst (1966-2008) in Belgium. A wide range of his works will be on show which reflect his vast use of both medium and subject matter, using sculpture, drawing, video, collage, photography to represent themes of nature, sex, death, desire and consumerism. This variety portrays Fairhurst's resistance of categorisation and leads us to look at his methods of disintegrating the process of creation, allowing his artwork to form it's own identity, “It’s like saying a word over and over again until it loses its meaning, and then gets it back again” (Angus Fairhurst, 2004).

The Angus Fairhurst exhibition is open until 12th September 2010 at M Museum Leuven. If you can't make it to Belgium, watch this video showing some of the exhibition artworks with commentary from Pauline Daly and Tom Trevor.

To see Fairhurst works available through Other Criteria, click here.

A Couple of Differences Between Thinking and Feeling_II (front) high res

Angus Fairhurst A Couple of Differences Between Thinking and Feeling II, 2003, bronze gorilla: 165 x 140 x 105 cm arm: 31 x 120 x 67 cm Copyright the Estate of Angus Fairhurst, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

The Problem with Banana Skins

Angus Fairhurst The Problem With Banana Skins Divided / Inverted 1998 polyurethane rubber, 36 x 36 x 7 cm Copyright the Estate of Angus Fairhurst, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

Three pages from a magazine, body & text removed med res

Angus Fairhurst Three Pages from a Magazine, Body and Text Removed 2003 cut out magazine on paper 29.7 x 22.2 cm Copyright the Estate of Angus Fairhurst, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

This Does Not Last More Than Five Seconds

This Does Not Last More Than Five Seconds [Yellow] 2001 watercolour on paper 68.58 x 81.28 cm unique Copyright the Estate of Angus Fairhurst, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London



M presents the first selected retrospective exhibition of artist Angus Fairhurst (1966-2008) in Belgium. One of the most influential members of the group of artists associated with London’s Goldsmiths College in the late 1980s, Fairhurst participated in the seminal exhibition, Freeze, in 1988, which introduced the world to a generation who became known as the Young British Artists (YBAs), setting the tone for contemporary art in the UK over the next two decades.

This exhibition will feature examples from across his full body of work, which defied categorisation through its sheer breadth of media and invention: painting, performance, animation, photography, video, sculpture, music, print, wallpaper, drawing, collage. In contrast to the brash shock tactics of many of his contemporaries, Angus Fairhurst was an artist whose work was always a subtle combination of conceptual rigour and formal aesthetic concerns. His intriguing output cannot be placed in a single category or seen from a single perspective. Moreover, the artist often approached his work with a ready, self-parodying wit. Over twenty years, he revisited and reworked different strands of ideas, often to the extent that one set of works might appear to have little or no formal properties in common with any other. His work touches on subjects as varied as the nature of the self, desire, sex and death, the emptiness of expression, and the ubiquity and power of advertising, but always under-scored with a particular sense of the absurd, softened by his singular brand of humour.

Repetition and contradiction lay at the heart of his practice. As in the work of Samuel Beckett and Bruce Nauman, Fairhurst’s use of the loop becomes a metaphor for the absurdity of life itself: we are born, we wake up, we go to sleep and inevitably we die. Possible meaning is confronted with its own travesty, its own comedy. Fixed conclusions are eschewed in favour of an unresolved, constructive chaos. Often his method was to select the parameters of an accumulative system and then abandon it, allowing the work to determine its own outcome. It is only when disintegration renders the original starting point unrecognizable that something new begins to emerge: “It’s like saying a word over and over again until it loses its meaning, and then gets it back again” (Angus Fairhurst, 2004).

A number of themes are apparent throughout his work. There is his use and inherent criticism of the advertising world, fashion magazines, billboards, etc. Fairhurst removed figures and text from colourful, seductive advertising posters and from fashion magazines, which he then combined to create extraordinary collages so that only ghost-like figures remain. The vacuity and lure of advertising were reduced to a formal play of colour and form, from the early magazine collages, ‘All Evidence of Man Removed’, to the late, painterly billboards.

Fairhurst was a great lover of nature, and the interplay of nature and artifice was a recurring theme throughout his work. He was fascinated with the comic icon of the 'gorilla'. They populate his early cartoon drawings of man and beast in unlikely domestic situations, performing slapstick stunts upon each other. The video A Cheap and Ill-Fitting Gorilla Suit (1995) shows a figure jumping up and down in a gorilla costume, shedding newspaper stuffing, until eventually the artist himself is revealed, naked. He also made several large bronze gorillas, such as A Couple of Differences Between Thinking and Feeling II (2003). The hapless gorilla dolefully contemplates his detached arm lying on the ground in front of him: "I wanted to make a classical sculpture which has the lightness of a cartoon" (Angus Fairhurst, 2004). M’s roof is hosting the work Mnemonic Table (2004), a wooden table covered with ivy, weeds and other plants which will grow during the course of the exhibition.

One of Fairhurst’s best known works, Gallery Connections (1995), which is in the Tate collection, overlays sound recordings to create a density of layers. In this case the telephone lines of different commercial galleries in London have been crossed so that receptionists answer each other and chaos ensues, with overlapping conversations building into a cacophony of confusion. The sound of the art world talking to itself gradually re-forms into a rhythmic ambient noise. Similarly, the series of Underdone/Overdone paintings (1998) also accumulates layers until the original image is eventually erased. The paintings depict a forest with each view differentiated by repeated layers of colour separation until the trees finally disappear altogether. In the corridors at M Underdone/Overdone Painting No. 26 (1998) takes the form of wallpaper (made in 2004 for the exhibition In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida at Tate Britain), creating a woodland backdrop of primary colours in the space. Besides working with a variety of visual media, Angus was also active as a musician and gave performances. In the last gallery of the exhibition at M is a drum kit which is there for anybody to play.

A comprehensive book, Angus Fairhurst (published by Philip Wilson Publishers and Sadie Coles HQ) is available in English with separate Dutch translations of essays by Sacha Craddock and James Cahill. Angus Fairhurst is an Arnolfini exhibition curated by Tom Trevor, Director of Arnolfini, and organised in collaboration with M, The Estate of Angus Fairhurst and Sadie Coles HQ, London.