Lawrie Shabibi presents “Everything Should Be OK” a solo exhibition by New York based British artist Oliver Clegg. Clegg works between two and three-dimensional disciplines using a diverse range of materials and method, from glass, wood and steel to neon, resin and concrete. Delving into the complexities of modern life, Clegg wittily presents a narrative that oscillates between the tragic and comic revealing a broad set of interests that touch upon opposing notions of life such birth and death, joy and sorrow, creation and destruction, childhood and aging.
For this exhibition Clegg presents a selection of new and older paintings of discarded childhood toys and other household objects on used table tops, church floorboards and the scratched wooden backs of old small storage boxes. The wood that the artist chooses is always intentional: “The nostalgic nature of both the surfaces and the subjects are mechanisms for inspiring the viewer to consider his position in the present day with fictitious reconstructions of the past,” says Clegg. In other paintings within this continuing body of work he has also worked with old church pews and school desks showing his ambivalence towards both institutions. Internet may now dominate the secular sphere, yet old religion has not gone away and in truth is reasserting itself. Not only was the artist brought up with a religious background he also began making work just as the internet began its relentless advance. Old authority and the internet – two binary notions and how they fit together – inform much of Clegg’s art making.
In addition to the paintings, Clegg presents two other works highlight both the diversity of his materials and also another major facet in his work – the question of self. References to cinema and music recur throughout his work. In “Don’t You? Don’t You?” (an installation that takes its title from the lyrics of ‘You’re So Vain’ by Carly Simon) Clegg suspends a disco ball in an oversized shipping crate. As opposed to squares of light being reflected against the interior walls of the crate this time we see the words “me, me, me” spinning around the space in thousands of multiples. The sculpture is accompanied by a tenth speed loop of the chorus from the eponymous title song by Carly Simon – a sardonic exploration of narcissism. As Clegg says “In a culture of too many options where we are forced to look at ourselves more, the only way to deal with this is by becoming more narcissistic.”
“I HOPE WE NEVER DIE, SO DO I, DO YOU THINK THERE IS ANY CHANCE OF IT?” takes another look at the question of self in the 21st contrary. This wall based piece takes eighty-one birth certificates the artist bought over the course of a year using Ebay as the primary resource. Into the paper surface of each certificate the artist has laser cut an actual end title taken from a film from the year of that person’s birth. The exercise reinforces Thomas Fuller’s melancholic assertion that “birth is the beginning of death.”
The materials Clegg often chooses (old wooden panels, found objects and neon) and the recurring subjects of these board paintings (worn out and unused toys) are often things that have been replaced, if not always improved upon. Game play and nostalgia are themes Clegg refers to again and again in both sculptural and performative work but also in his paintings. Old wooden drawing boards, toy figures, building blocks and oil paint all share an air of redundancy as today these are unlikely to be either the toys of choice for children, nor the media of choice for art students. With digital technology so readily available now as a medium for art and play, role-play and freedom of expression that can be found in these older media are progressively lacking in the digital age, which Clegg signals through the repetitions in his subject matter and materials.