Beauty, brutality, celebrity… Breaking Boundaries at the Maddox Gallery, London

uk_2000624_LThumb by Kiran Shergill, CIO Legal and Risk Management, EY UK&I

When I arrive at Maddox Gallery for a private view of ‘Breaking Boundaries’, Bradley Theodore, is in full flow. He is explaining his creative process. He doesn’t sketch but paints directly onto canvas drawing influences from “here and there” until it becomes “like ‘The Da Vinci Code’ ”. Through his work he wants to “show the people of the future how we live today”.

If you’re already familiar with Theodore, chances are you first read about him in a fashion or lifestyle mag (think GQ). Perhaps he would disagree but to me he seems acutely aware of art as commodity and unashamedly gives the public what they want – bright, bold, easy on the eye, Day-of-the-Dead style images of famous people with their equally famous coifs intact (which helps you recognize them). According to Maddox Gallery’s enthusiastic Managing Director and Curator, James Nicholls, Theodore “changed the art world forever” with his mural of two heavyweight fashion gurus, Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld, going head to head in New York. Since then, he has amassed 100,000 Instagram followers and an array of A-list fans. The value of his work has increased 40% in the last two years alone. (Investors take note.)

Bradley Theodore

If you’re desperate to acquire a piece of Theodore’s work but don’t have room for a gigantic mural in your front room then fear not, for he prodigiously churns out paintings in his signature style as if it’s going out of fashion. We see up close some of the works lauded in the above-mentioned mags, including Theodore’s homage to the Queen (featuring real diamond dust for her jewels), Kate Moss, Wintour, Lagerfeld and Mohamed Ali. Theodore admires strong women. Of the Queen he says, “there’s no emotion on the surface but you can tell it’s underneath – you don’t want to mess with her” and he is moved by the fact that she personally visited Grenfell Tower following the tragic fire last month. After he leaves, Nicholls explains that Theodore is interested in strong women who influence the lives of others, having first been inspired by his own mother who single-handedly raised him and his eight siblings in difficult circumstances.

Nicholls then briefly shows us some pieces by Russell Young. We’re told the artist bought Andy Warhol’s press to produce his works, which are a series of iconic images of Hollywood’s greats. Young applies a layer of diamond dust to his canvases which adds a further layer of glitz to the already glittering stars beneath, the intensity of the dazzle changing subtly with the light.

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Russell Young

Next we move on to Bran Symondson’s “Brutal to Beautiful”, a cquustomised short-barreled gold leafed (decommissioned) AK-47 decorated with butterflies, hovering in a glass case. We’re told that Symondson spent some time in an Afghan village. There he saw a boy playing with an AK-47 strewn with flowers. It struck him that the boy had only ever known war and destruction so, in his honour, he decided to create a piece about peace and the legacy of the land. This striking work, which is one of a series of similar pieces, includes a full clip of clear bullets containing the “essence of the land”’, namely minerals and other geological debris picked up on site. The work is certainly eye-catching if ironically bling. I find myself wondering if that little village boy’s flower strewn AK would also have fetched £60,000.

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Bran Symondson

We swiftly move on to more lighthearted works by Michael Moebius and Finn Stone. Bringing a new meaning to the term ‘Pop Art’, Moebius’s works are bubblegum fun; he paints hyper-realistic portraits of icons such as Audrey Hepburn, The Beatles and the Queen (who, according to Nicholls, sent her hairdresser over to take a picture of her portrait so that she could see it for herself) in monochrome or sepia with large bubblegum bubbles over their mouths for a playfully subversive touch. Stone makes ‘sculpture art’ which is essentially using banal objects to create works that look like paintings from afar. We see an impressive portrait of Van Gogh, in the style of Van Gogh but, as we move nearer, realise that it’s made out of paintbrushes pieced together like a jigsaw and painted over.

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Russell Young

One of the most surprising set of still life prints are created by David Hockney on iPad. Yes, the David Hockney and, yes, on an iPad! Perhaps of all the works I’ve seen so far, these images really do break boundaries. I wonder if the people who first saw photographs exhibited as artworks also felt their preconceptions of what art is being challenged in a similar way. The fact that Hockney uses an iPad as a tool to create art doesn’t detract from the works at all, of course, but it makes me wonder about what’s next… perhaps one day I’ll visit a gallery of works produced by the world’s finest algorithms.

This private view of Breaking Boundaries at the Maddox Gallery was offered to EY by Royal Academy of Arts  as a benefit of our corporate partnership with them. Access to RA exhibitions is free for employees.