Mark Flood might be one of the most prophetic and underrated artists of the 1980s. Working in a variety of media and formats – including painting, writing, installation, modified readymades, combines and photo-collage, not to mention the records of his band Culturcide – Flood’s anti-aesthetic sensibility has influenced a younger generation of artists that includes Josh Smith, Nate Lowman and Anthony Burdin. Dating from a time when pop subject matter was treated with varying degrees of cool indifference or irony, Flood’s is a unique, unusually impassioned and intensely oppositional voice. One gets the impression that he is a guy who tends to take the insipid, mono-vocal, authoritarian tone of pop culture, generally – and advertising, specifically –as a kind of personal affront. In its attitude and intentions his work is reminiscent of the comedian Bill Hicks’s famous rant that starts with the line: ‘If anyone here works in advertising or marketing, kill yourself.’
Similarly, one of Flood’s many text-based paintings included in this show, which covers the period 1979–89, uses the phrase: Commit Suicide (1989). It is stencilled with spraypaint in haphazard fashion on a surface that resembles dive-bar bathroom graffiti. Other text-based paintings say things like Masturbate Often (1989), Fuck the Economy (1989) or ‘WATCH TELEVIO’ [sic] (Watch Television, undated). Taken alone, some of these might seem like merely juvenile punk-nihilism but, collectively, their sense of politicized rage coalesces on advertising and consumerism as their primary target.Their blunt obscenity is an excoriation ofthe glib insistent tone of advertising slogans in which sex, death and profanity are always just under the surface but never directly addressed – as if these elisions andinnuendoes are the real obscenity.
A series of magazine ads and product packaging – bottles, detergent boxes and aerosol cans – with the labels sloppily painted out, inverts this technique (‘Muted Objects’,1983). The logos are often still half-visible and they register as awkwardly indeterminate, as if between states of being. Likewise, Flood’s photo-collages revel in disjunctive associations – from pornographic multi-genitaled mutants (Luis, 1986), to David Bowie as the Elephant Man (David/Unacceptable Body, 1985) and text-based manipulations of ad copy (The Only Cereal, 1982) – all envisioned to variously disturbing, formally precise and hilarious effect. A trash- and poster-strewn installation – a duplicate of the place where Flood lived during the 1980s – also provided a less filtered context for his pop ephemera from that decade.
There is a consistent class-based identification with the abject and homely that reaches its pinnacle in Flood’s gimcrack photo-collages of pop stars, reconfigured by cutting and pasting their features into grotesque, unfathomably weird alien forms. Roger Daltry (Roger, 1983) is given a long, vaguely equine snout; David Lee Roth (David Lee, undated) is mutated into a stunted troll who, somehow, still manages to elicit our sympathy. Like most of Flood’s work, the punch-you-in-the-face obviousness not only validates itself (by refusing to pull punches and hitting its target) but, also, gradually reveals unexpected levels of subtly, visual complexity and wit.
The one misstep here was a room filled with the artist’s recent ‘Lace Paintings’ (2012): lacy, bright-hued abstractions with accents of metallic pigment. Flood says that these were made under the influence of Dave Hickey’s idea of beauty – as if to say ‘fuck you’ to the art bureaucracy. To me, this just sounds like cynical pandering in the name of fake populism: it’s pitched straight to the viewer! Of course, some factions of the art bureaucracy eat that type of thing up; for instance, in the exhibition catalogue Alison Gingeras breathlessly compares them to Gerhard Richter (not even close, in my opinion). But, whatever, let’s take Flood at face value and say, as someone with his caustic sense of humour would fully appreciate: ‘Fuck you back, “Lace Paintings”. Love, the Art Bureaucracy.’