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"Colin Self: Art in the Nuclear Age"
2008-06-21 until 2008-10-12
Pallant House Gallery
Chichester, , UK United Kingdom

Pallant House Gallery presents the summer exhibition Colin Self: Art in the Nuclear Age, the most comprehensive display to date of works by leading British Pop artist Colin Self (b.1941). This challenging exhibition considers the artist’s engagement with modern culture in the era of the Cold War, and is the first show of its kind to bring together the most important pieces from each period of the artist’s life, from the 1960s to the present day. This important exhibition, which comprises around one hundred paintings, drawings and sculptures by Self, includes iconic works such as Leopardskin Nuclear Bomber (1962-3); pieces never shown before such as Strike: Waiting Women on the Shore (1963/2008); important contemporary works including New York Disaster (1998); and the controversial Trilogy: The Iconoclasts (2007). This timely exhibition also coincides with the fiftieth anniversary year of the formation of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in 1958.

Simon Martin, curator of the exhibition, said: “The subjects of war and nuclear threat which Colin Self has been addressing in his work since the 1960s are as pertinent to today’s society as they have ever been. His work, both in terms of subject matter and technique, has always pushed boundaries, often with an extraordinary combination of wit and visual intelligence.”

Colin Self first gained critical attention in Britain in the early 1960s when he became identified with Pop art through his use of imagery derived from popular culture. But while other artists including David Hockney and Peter Blake, both of whom recognised an originality in Self’s work, celebrated modern consumer culture, Self turned to the political and social reality of his times, in particular the fear of nuclear weapons and the threat of the Cold War.

Independent visits to the USA and Canada in 1962 and 1965 heightened Self’s consciousness of Cold War Following a second visit to the USA in 1965, Self and the controversial Trilogy: The Iconoclasts (2007). This timely exhibition also coincides with the fiftieth anniversary year of the formation of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in 1958.

Following a second visit to the USA in 1965, Self produced a series of drawings based on American nuclear fall-out shelters, Art Deco cinema interiors and hot dogs, which he described as being ‘as important a 20th century development as a rocket’. His highly personal and distinctive style of drawing, led the artist Richard Hamilton to suggest that Self was ‘the best draughtsman in England since William Blake.’

As a printmaker, Self has been a great innovator and was a central figure in the 1960s printmaking boom. Using images from a variety of commercial sources, Self created the remarkable Power and Beauty series of screenprints (1968) and the etching suite Prelude to 1000 Temporary Objects of Our Time (1970-71) which sought to provide a unique record of society in the event of its destruction.

During the early Seventies, Self became increasingly suspicious of the commercial London art scene and decided to withdraw from it entirely, initially relocating to West Germany to work with the potter Mathies Schwarze, and then later to Scotland, to work in isolation, seeking a sense of solace through the creation of atmospheric watercolours and charcoals of the surrounding landscapes, a medium he later extended to his native Norfolk. But a trip to the former Soviet Union in 1985 would provide yet more stimulus for the artist’s explorations of Cold War culture. The work Oh! The Young Chinese (1985) presents a witty commentary on Communism, and the collages from the 1980s to the present day, reveal an extraordinarily inventive visual imagination. Works such as Burning Man Jumping from Building (1983) and New York Disaster (1998) appear remarkably prescient in the light of recent world events such as the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. Other pieces, in contrast, create often humorous narratives from found material in everyday life, as an extension of the language of Pop art.

Colin Self: Art in the Nuclear Age culminates with Self’s Odyssey Illiad suite of etchings (2001 to present), in which the artist returns to the multiple-plate etching technique he first used in the 1960s , to re-tell the classical story by Homer using contemporary found- imagery and themes.


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