BEN COVE

 
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Ben Cove: Tilted at Leeds Metropolitan University Gallery, Leeds, 2002
curated by Moira Innes

This was Ben Cove's first gallery exhibition and consisted entirely of of painting; three works made for his BA degree exhibition and the rest were newly commissioned by the gallery.

The majority of the paintings are tall, narrow panels mounted on casters which rest somewhat precariously at an incline against the wall. During production, a painting seems more like an object in the studio rather than a flat image, it does not remain statically hung but is shifted, turned, laid flat and propped. When hung flush against the wall at eye level, paintings seek to pass off as illusionistic images, windows to another world. These works were concieved to operate both as object and image. During exhibition, paintings are predominantly elevated both physically and symbolically from the easel, floor or table where they are produced. These works seek to create a consistancy or honesty between the method of production and the method of display. The casters were utilised during production for the movement of these heavy panels and were therefore retained in the hang. These paintings are scaled so as to be slightly larger than the viewer but the action is not at eye level, it has apparently dropped to the bottom. This allows a play between the familiar language of flat modernist painting in which space is evoked through expanses of colour and the more representational language of the source imagery.

The works in this show appropriate found images of an idealogical nature from comic books, photography and illustration sources. Extracted from their intended context and often heavily cropped, blurred or re-coloured, they isolate images of heroic flight and near disaster.

A number of the works utlise images appropriated from Superman comics of the 1950's. Of all the superheroes found in graphic imagery of the twentieth century, Superman perhaps looms largest in the American psyche, in part surely due to parallels between this character and the American population at large. Just as Europeans adopted America as their new promised land, so Superman arrived in America, an alien from another world. Whilst struggling with his identity, he attempts to save America by ridding the world of those who seek to upset the status quo. When these works were made, the now deceased actor Christopher Reeve, best known for his starring role in the Superman films, was a prominant figure in the Western media. His campaign was to push for government and public support for the advancement of medical research to cure himself (and other people in his position) of spinal chord paralysis. Having broken his neck in a riding accident, Reeve was not willing to accept his status as incapacited. These works were made around the time of 9/11, when America were made aware of the chink in their amour and responded with the invasion of Iraq.

The paintings depict several scenarios from Superman strips though none give a clear image of the hero as he appears in the comics. SuperManor shows the flight lines of the hero as he exits the attic window of the house where he is "forced to settle" (as the caption reads). Superman's First Love and Lori Falls for Clarke are snippets of the story in which a young Superman saves and then falls in love with a super-mermaid, Lori, who travels round dry land in a wheelchair, a blanket concealing her fish tail. As a token of gratitude to her hero, Lori gives birth to Superman's children. The Bones of Superman, an impasto white painting is a fossilised or frozen monochrome depiction of the flying man made static. Superman Icarus, made subsequently, further abstracts this image as components of the figure are scattered to the wind.

Whitey on the Moon and Flag utilise photographic sources both of which place the American flag alongside figures. The former takes it's title from the poem (and subsequently song) by Gil Scott Heron, an Afro-American singer, poet and activist. Long Play isolates twelve images onto old vinyl records, reuniting them in the hang. Many are derived from throwaway copywrite free illustration sources, images intended to act more as signs than images.