Shovlin’s “The Last Resort/The Black Room” acrylic on canvas.
America– and particularly the post-Sixties pop culture of the American west coast– is the tint that colours everything. Here is a hall of mirrors. Look back at 1980’s suburban England…and you find strange reflections of Woodstock and Altamont, the Sunset Strip and the American Dream…
–Ben Tufnell in the Introduction to A Dream Deferred.
On certain occasions culture shock can take the form of Chinese boxes– an other looks at the otherness of another looking at the familiar in some other place. And this was the feeling I had looking at Jamie Shovlin’s A Dream Deferred at the Haunch of Venison.
I had a similar feeling when I saw a window display in a Primark which featured tee shirts that said “Sunset Beach Summer Camp,” “Seal Beach Sports Club” and “Humbolt Surf Team” (ok, I made that last one up, but you get the idea). Basically, the place I come from is marketed here as a fantastical, semi-ironic holiday destination.
Before seeing this show I was unfamiliar with Shovlin’s work and understood him to be a sort of young, art world prankster. While he was nappy-clad, crawling around in suburban England I was riding my bike around suburban Chicagoland, blasting AM radio playing most of the “classic rock” he riffs on in the current show. I begrudgingly grant him his nostalgia, simply because I would like someone to do the same for me, should the situation arise that I become, say, melancholy about France in May of ’68.
Shovlin’s “The Flag on High!” enamel on unprimed canvas.
I admire this play on the Op Art movement of the 60s, coupled with a nod to the sacred maze, superimposed over an Eagles album cover. This was the first album I ever owned, and this fact makes me terminally uncool. I saved up my change, and I remember walking into the record store in my clogs and hand-me-down rayon office lady shirt and laying down sweaty bills to buy it. The guy behind the counter frowned at me and even then I knew myself to be a rock-and-roll failure. But for a year or two this record gave me a solitary joy, which is all a suburban girl can ask of her vinyl.
I guess this is what troubled me about the show– I sensed nothing of Shovlin in it. It was as if he were yearning for other people’s memories. Even the title– A Dream Deferred– borrowed from Langston Hughes, is a kind of second hand bitterness. In America one would not “sample” Hughes and ignore race, but here it’s acceptable? Reviews of the show and the eloquent introduction by Ben Tufnell seem to paint it as some kind of elegiac gesture for the Death of Hippie– not unlike the well loved film Withnail and I. To be honest I don’t see it.
And I don’t see the British gaze or context. Maybe I’m just too close to this material, too literal and possessive about it all.
Or maybe there just wasn’t enough there– I was most interested in the giant album cover paintings, and I wanted rooms full of them, in a kind of Christian-Marclay-esque, record geek fun house. I wanted them to reveal something, or perhaps start some dialog with the boomer generation, the children of the sixties, many of whom are still alive and well and who blew it– all that revolutionary potential– big time. To quote Hawkwind, “we’ve used up all of our magic powers trying to do it in the road.”
And the hangover gave us the grand cheeze of classic rock. I found the Foreigner album cover rendered in pine tar and terpentine entitled “At Home Abroad” to be particularly pithy in this regard. And strangely relevant to my own nostalgia for British hippiedom. (I did just quote Hawkwind, didn’t I?)
Only in “A Ghost is Born”, the hand-drawn reproduction of Abby Hoffman’s obituary, is there any sense of personal longing. Or maybe I’m projecting again. After all, Hoffman described himself as an “orphan of America” and this is a feeling I know well.