False Idols

By Jo Phillips

‘Rex is interesting because he is still so young – around the age when we started the gallery 6 years ago. He is an artist that represents everything Unit London stands for: identifying and developing the work of young, emerging artists. His graduation show sold out entirely to a major respected collector in the UK, after which he landed on my radar via the director of a gallery in South Africa. The work echoes the warped notions of luxury that you find in Will Martyr’s work – but Rex’s paintings actually includes a human presence that places a focus on the labourers who toil to create luxury residences of the rich and famous, but who are rarely credited for their back-breaking work when the job is done. What excites us about Rex is that despite his age, he already displays fantastic painting skills, so we believe his potential is huge. We just staged a solo show for him in the downstairs space of the gallery which sold out entirely – not just to entry-level collectors, but to savvy, seasoned ones too.’ Unit Gallary

London-based contemporary artist Rex Southwick is known for his highly-saturated large-scale pieces. Southwick attended the Leeds College of Art and graduated from Leeds with a First-Class Honours in Fine Art before recently receiving the AON Community Art Award. His work stems from images sourced from building contractors and construction site visits, working with domestic environments at incomplete stages. The paintings often feature construction workers confronting our ‘seemingly endless stream of idealised domestic environments found on digital platforms.’ His confident paintings invite you to view the glorified domestic spaces at a less daunting, less imposing state. His super-saturated paintings in the most recent exhibition depict our lives that we depict as glossy through social media.

Rex gives us an insight into how he approaches his work and what is at the centre of why he produces what he produces.

He addresses false idols and idealised spaces in the digital age of Art and how digital ‘connectedness’ disconnects us from reality and removes us from the physicality of our surroundings.

This latest body of work is the evolution and product of accumulating masses of images of luxury homes being built or renovated. These images are sourced through collaborations with developers, realtors, construction contractors or by photographing them myself. My latest series of works comprises images from LA and the Balearics. The focus of these images is the construction of swimming pools, with the swimming pool being a near-universally recognisable symbol of material success and the supposedly luxury lifestyle that accompanies it. The contrast of seeing these places as unpolished building sites with clandestine workmen is designed to challenge these perceptions.

I paint these private homes as construction sites in reaction to how the digital platforms which are embedded in everyday life provide a perpetual stream of images and scenarios that are more often than not a falsified depiction of reality.

In the same way we dictate our own physical surroundings through construction, I feel strongly that our own personalities and actions are deeply influenced by those very surroundings. How therefore does this relationship with our surroundings continue to function in the same way when we are exposed to endless imagery of luxury and supposed perfection? In reality, immigrant labour and luxury homes is not an uncommon pairing, however, in Art, it is thematically an unusual combination and one rarely portrayed. My paintings are not primarily intended to fight or highlight some sense of social injustice, for me they are an exercise in deconstructing these environments and breaking down illusions of grandeur and false ideals in 21st century lifestyle.

The obtainability of success has never been so publicly judged and misconstrued. With swimming pools being the allegory of success, the intention of my work is to dismantle the delusion that certain surroundings guarantee a degree of happiness and accomplishment, and in doing so open a dialogue about pools and the people that build them. Labourers in my paintings always have their identities obscured – I do this to leave their role and participation as open to interpretation. Hidden but very much present, their facelessness could be construed as the primary subject matter, but that is not my intention. Be it the pool or the labourer, the subject of the painting is actually whatever the viewer wants to project onto it.

All of the paintings are painted on canvases I prime in a particular order with the same recipe of oils and solvents which give me a surface that I like working with. The ground for all the paintings is a bright pink which is a made from rose madder pigment. This pink base changes and intensifies colours and creates a vibrancy that I want. The painting is then constructed in a schematic way in order to balance compositions by using colour densities and their perceived visual weight. Generally, once all large areas of the pink ground have been covered I then stop the painting.

Website: https://www.rexsouthwick.com/
Social Media: @rexsouthwick_artist

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