December 2011: Sickboy Straddles Heaven and Earth

Sickboy, Celebration of Earthly Sins and Heavenly Fantasies, 2011

Prolific London-based street artist Sickboy opened his Celebration of Earthly Sins and Heavenly Fantasies on a muggy Thursday night in early November at east London's catch all cool stuff megalith, the Old Truman Brewery.

Maybe not as wow-inducing as past Sickboy feats (namely his Stay Free “factory” installation of 2009),the opening of Sickboy's Heaven & Earth nonetheless offered the opportunity to check out a plethora of fresh renderings of his signature depictions of childlike wonder mashed up with teenage angst and executed with adult precision. As if viewing Hanna Barbera animation cells created by Hieronymus Bosch, the vibrant new works were well worth a gander. Pensive faced protagonists surrounded surreal scenes peopled by cartoon characters and the artist's arsenal of icons and symbols.

In addition to the new works, the show featured a walk-in confessional booth with resident pastor appearing at “various service times” throughout the opening, giving attendees the chance to confess some sins and exorcise a few demons. Said Sickboy of the confessional aspect of Heaven & Earth:

"The … concept was inspired by a close-up photograph of my hand, painting a canvas. I thought 'that hand’s done some bad things.' Everyone’s got skeletons in their closet, but modern day society relies heavily on superficial methods of exorcising our demons: whether it's drink, drugs or just clearing the internet history on your computer. By confessing anonymously, people can lighten their conscience. With art as a scapegoat, a problem shared is a problem solved. Let's get back to our roots, focus on the future and demolish the past ... confess a feeling."

Sickboy, Celebration of Earthly Sins and Heavenly Fantasies, 2011

During the opening the pastor was considerably less expansive on the art, offering this blurb of wisdom when asked if he was actually there to respond to confessors when spoken to, “It depends on how I feel at the moment.” Cheeky. Taking inspiration from beyond the studio or even the street, the artist also used the opening of his show to exhibit works based upon online confessions submitted anonymously by the public via his website, www.thesickboy.com.

But the show wasn't all “sick” art and guests mumbling to a reticent priest. Sickboy was provided with a bit of confessional collaborative help from several of his name-drop-able graffito buddies – D*Face, Eine, Anthony Lister, Paul Insect, Vhils, Conor Harrington, Xenz, Word to Mother, Will Barras, Eelus, Mudwig and Hush – adding their own distinctive styles to Sickboy's own to fluid effect.

Given the short lived nature of the show (private view on November 3rd to the closing on the 6th), a heck of a lot of effort was crammed into a little bit of time. And perhaps, in some ways, just a bit too much. Indeed, much more about other installation aspects of this show could have been written in this article, but after a while one loses focus … as it seemed Sickboy may have done in the case of Heaven & Earth.

Gone was the hard hitting singularity of previous exhibitions and the artist's graffiti pieces. Instead the ultimate feel was one of “well, this is what I've been up to since you last saw me” and “oh hey there's room in the corner for me to do something else. Hmmmm ...” Individual elements of the show impressed, especially Sickboy's new paintings demonstrative of an ever stronger and more confident vision. But an overall incoherent and too-much-going-on air hung over the show.

Sickboy, Celebration of Earthly Sins and Heavenly Fantasies, 2011

Chris Osburn is an American transplant living in London where he has a blast working as a freelance photographer, writer, consultant, blogger and more.     www.tikichris.com 

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