Cover image of the review
Ash Keating, Ice Floes Response, installation view, 2023, mixed media on linen. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Melbourne Museum Photography

Ice Floes Response

16 Sep 2023
At the Above 8 Sep - 17 Sep 2023

The public mythology of Ash Keating has been moulded around the hybrid figure of a “fine art” painter incorporating the techniques and procedures of “street art” (tags, throws, bombs, pieces, etc.). The result is abstract works that straddle the infinitely shrinking line between art, design, and decoration. This review of his current Melbourne exhibition seeks to highlight his superior approach to what we might term “expanded field pastoralism,” while placing it amidst the complex cultural transcoding between Street Art subculture and High Art superculture.

So, before we tackle strategies of painting, let’s deal with the Black elephant in the room: graffiti. Just as Picasso’s Cubist portraiture was co-opted out of “dark continent” spooky masks, the distinctly African-American-Latinx visuality of graffiti has undergone a transmutation from “anthropological” signage into High Art artistic statement: 1970s subway tagging in Brooklyn and the Bronx had become paint signing in Chelsea and Tribeca by the 1990s. Graffiti transitioned to Street Art through its twenty-first century subsumption into a global lifestyle milieu that rewards gratuitous creativity and street cred posturing. Countless urban city councils utilise Street Art to emblematise the banal aesthetics of upward mobility dressage that signposts gentrification zones. And always throbbing at the optical core of any commissioned mural in these situations is a palimpsestic echo of Wildstyle lettering and Electro avatars. Through the multi-layered co-option of Black icons and tokens—anthro, pomo, and retro—Blackface has thus become as ubiquitous as to dilute its original problematising nature.

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