Monday, 11 August 2014

The Beatles in the Bath

Sharks, detail by Damian Langan

Curator Lee Crocker from Bury Collective has written a guest blog about the exhibition of work by artist Damian Langan at Bury Met, until 1 September.

Damian Langan is a Bury artist who I met at our monthly Bury Collective meeting of artists, which I help to organise.

On first meeting him, I was taken aback by his hot wire nature - but also taken by his warm personality and inventive humour. These qualities come shining through his artwork, which caught my attention - and held it - immediately. I liken the experience of seeing Damian’s work to hearing The Fall or Captain Beefheart for the first time, you've never experienced this before - it's totally unique. If there’s a category to be placed on this work, I suppose it is “Outsider”, but it avoids easy labelling, playing games with the accepted and the expected. 

Damian, 46, hasn't had any formal training in art which is what makes his work so natural and special, he's letting moods and feelings take over, with no inhibitions on what the outcome may be. This doesn't mean that he is unskilled, or thoughtless, there is careful composition and balance in tone and colour as well as confident power in his line work. Although the majority of the work is done with pen and ink, other mixed media are often added, like paint and photocopying. There is also no limit on the surface the work is created on; canvases, envelopes, mdf, wood chip, plates, spoons, chopping boards, ceilings and cracks in walls. He sees a surface; he wants to cover it. 

Framing is an important part of Damian's work too. Most of the chosen frames are cheap charity shop specimens, some of them 80s horrors that I wouldn't have even picked back then, yet somehow they manage to complement the artwork. On one occasion we needed to mount a piece of work urgently - rather than go and find some black card Damian used a bin liner, don't ask me how but it worked perfectly.

For a year or so it has been an ambition of mine to exhibit these wonderful drawings and paintings. When the opportunity came to curate a show of his work at Bury Met Theatre, Damian was ill in hospital. Myself and another Collective artist Stephen Nuttall were taken to his flat by two of his sisters to choose the work. When we entered his lounge for the first time we were blown away by the amount of work dancing before our eyes. The walls were jammed with framed pieces, even the ceiling was yet another painting. Stephen was reminded of Francis Bacon’s wild studio walls in Dublin. We were able to go through his flat and choose what we thought would work best for an exhibition, from the two 8 foot high figures of Adam and Eve that were lying on the bed, to the spoon he found at Battersea Power Station (and drew Battersea Power Station onto). We were kids in a sweet shop choosing an amazing array of flavours from Damian’s stock of unknown works of art.

Battersea Power Station (on spoon) by Damian Langan

The exhibition I’ve curated in the Met theatre foyer features around 40 pieces, including intricate drawings,paintings and 3D work. Two favourites of mine are Sharks (with its eerie revisiting of Yellow Submarine territory)  and The Beatles in the Bath, a piece of wood chip with small illustrations of sinking flotsam that remind me of Spike Milligan's work. The drawing includes a toilet and a bath with The Beatle's album Help sinking within it. I love the sly musical references in Damian's work, which are visual and also in titles like A One-Eyed Frank Side Bottom. One of his landscapes, filled with imaginary buildings drawn in fine line, has a real piece of string fixed across the frame. It has a bird sat on it and a woman nearby in a phone booth; the title 'Birds on a Wire’ is a gloriously cheesy, but also a sneaked reference to the bard of bedsit despair Leonard Cohen. When I last saw Damian he had been waiting for me for a while and filled an envelope with more wonderful black line drawings, signed with an art pen name, 'Kant dinsky'. His humour is present throughout his art, though offset with a darker streak. There are many hidden faces haunting these landscapes, some designed so they can seen whether you hang the piece either the ‘right’ way, or upside down. These faces are relentless in their pursuit of your gaze.

It is rare to find an unknown artist as prolific and working to such a consistently high standard as Damian Langan. Although everyone should be encouraged to enjoy creating art, there are some who should also be encouraged to know how remarkable they are - Damian is one of them. 

(Lee Crocker curated the current Damian Langan exhibition at Bury Met theatre foyer, which continues until 1st September 2014. Ask at the Met ticket office to get access to the exhibition.)

The Beatles in the Bath by Damian Langan