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Gavin Turk’s Unique Perspective on Still-Life Painting: “Our Identity Revealed Through Discarded Objects”

In his latest series of artworks, Gavin Turk, a renowned British artist, showcases compositions of household and commercial packaging set against plain backgrounds to diminish the depth of field. The vibrant hues of oranges, blues, and highlighter-yellows from synthetic plastics contrast the more subdued earthy and stony tones of cardboard, jars, and eggboxes, creating a dynamic interplay among the objects vying for space and attention.

These paintings not only underscore Turk’s ongoing fascination with consumer waste, exemplified by his well-known sculpture “Bag” (2000) resembling a black bin liner overflowing with trash and his recent watercolors depicting single-use plastic bottles, but also draw inspiration from the works of Italian artist Giorgio Morandi. Morandi, celebrated for his elegant portrayals of domestic objects, once remarked, “My art is always other people’s art,” alluding to his practice of referencing fellow artists in his creations.

Turk’s pieces, such as “The Original Small Beer, Stainswick Rapeseed Oil, Clearspring Organic Instant Corn Cous Cous, Vita Coco Pressed Coconut Water, Astonish Multi Surface Cleaner, Maggi Seasoning” from 2024, transform mundane items into abstract representations. By removing labels and contextual references, Turk allows the pure shapes of each bottle, box, or carton to command attention, appearing both familiar and strangely unfamiliar, aesthetically pleasing yet peculiarly alien. Initially conceived as a form of self-expression through the documentation of disposable packaging, these paintings challenge our consumer habits and the global impact of the products that fill our surroundings.

Each artwork’s title serves as a transparent inventory of the showcased items, reinstating brand names and distinctive identities, like “Thai Dragon Sriracha Hot Chilli Sauce” and “Scala Vegan Basil Pesto” or products such as “Delphi Foods Humous” and “Maldon Sea Salt Flakes” recurrent across multiple canvases.

Turk’s series prompts viewers to contemplate the significance of their possessions and whether they would be comfortable exhibiting them in a London gallery. This introspective exercise echoes the spirit of Michael Landy’s “Break Down” (2000) installation, where the artist subjected his personal belongings to systematic destruction, akin to an anti-production line.

Unlike traditional still-life compositions depicting perishable items, Turk’s artworks featuring plastic bottles and containers defy the notion of transience and decay. These objects, like the “Squeeze It Orange Drink” bottles, appear almost eternal, challenging the viewer to ponder the enduring legacy of consumerism. Turk’s poignant message is clear: “We are what we throw away.

Don’t miss Gavin Turk’s exhibition “The Conspiracy of Blindness” at Ben Brown Fine Arts, running from March 15 to May 10, 2024.