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Mat Collishaw (b. 1966), received his BFA from Goldsmiths College, London, in 1989 and began his career exhibiting the acclaimed work Bullet Hole alongside his Goldsmiths contemporaries at the legendary show Freeze in 1988, and at Modern Medicine in 1990. Both shows were curated by Collishaw’s long-term friend Damien Hirst and are renowned for the rise to prominence of the YBAs (Young British Artists).
Collishaw’s work envelops us in a twilight world poised between the alluring and the revolting, the familiar and the shocking, the poetic and the morbid. With a visual language embracing diverse media, the beauty of Collishaw’s work is compelling – seductive, captivating, hypnotic – yet repelling as we perceive the darker fantasies within. A repulsion triggered not by what we see, but by our innate response to it. Something between beautiful and abject.
Pornography, the crucifixion, gleaming fairies, syphilitic child prostitutes, bestiality, bondage, addiction, religion, exaltation and despair, even the final hours of a death-row inmate. There is seemingly no taboo left unbroken, no dark corner Collishaw is unwilling to explore – and yet, the work is utterly romantic, exquisitely beautiful, an expression of Collishaw’s wish to “create images that are awe-inspiring”. The forbidden has always fascinated Collishaw: “I am fuelled by things in my past which were suppressed or held at a distance, which have generated some form of hunger to make my work.” Hardly surprising then, that themes such as stifled sexual desire, brutal and perverse lust, the power of media imagery and the concept of divinity recur throughout his oeuvre.
What is surprising, startling even, is the tenderness and ecstasy – the almost sublime – embodied within the work. “There are mechanisms within us that are primed to respond to all kinds of visual material, leaving us with no real say over what we happen to find stimulating.” Collishaw is interested in imagery’s effect on the subliminal, and explores this by making the vile desirable, the repulsive inviting, whilst discretely positioning himself within art-history through his reference to old masters and contemporary dialogues, as in his work The End of Innocence (a digital recreation of Francis Bacon’s painting of Velasquez’s Pope Innocent X) or his questioning of Victorian mores and ideals, executed with 21st century technology.
Collishaw’s interest in the Victorians is no coincidence: 19th century Britain viewed itself in the light of scientific progress and empirical soberness. An age inhabited by educated and prosaic people. In retrospect however, child prostitution, poverty, perversion and a collective blood-lust ran parallel to what was deemed an enlightened age. Collishaw references the Victorian period by simulating its elaborately decorative, romantic style, but he indirectly conjures up that society’s dark side, the corrupt underbelly so pertinent to the present day. He drags our darkest urges into the light – illustrating that humans will never overcome their baser instincts, regardless of aesthetic or scientific advancement. The fact that Collishaw does not take the moral high ground makes his work all the more compelling: he simply shows us the beautiful – even if it is a beauty that sometimes turns out to be highly suspect.
The Victoria & Albert Museum commissioned Collishaw with a monumental onsite project, Magic Lantern, which – installed in the cupola above the entrance – appropriated the very architecture of the V&A creating a beacon of light, complete with an attendant swarm of moths, and was visible across London during the winter months of 2010 - 2011.
Mat Collishaw’s work has been exhibited in numerous solo shows around the world, including: New Art Gallery in Walsall (2015), his first major survey exhibition in the UK since 2005, concurrent with his exhibition in Walsall, Collishaw exhibited a new work at the Library of Birmingham, In Camera, inspired by the Library’s photography collection. Black Mirror, Galleria Borghese, Rome (2014), Mat Collishaw: The Yielding Glass, An Gailearaí, Ghaoth Dobhair, Londonderry (2014); Mat Collishaw: Afterimage, Arter, Istanbul (2013); Mat Collishaw: Preternatural, FaMa Gallery, Verona (2013); La vie de château, Les Châteaux de la Drôme, Ladrome (2013); Mat Collishaw, Pino Pascali Museum Foundation, Bari (2013); Mat Collishaw, Bass Museum of Art, Florida (2013); THIS IS NOT AN EXIT, Blain|Southern, London (2013); Crystal Gaze, Raucci/Santamaria Gallery, Naples (2012); Vitacide, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York (2012); Creation Condemned at Blain|Southern London (2010); Retrospectre, BFI Southbank, London (2010); Hysteria, Freud Museum, London (2009); Shooting Stars, Haunch of Venison, London (2008); Museum of Contemporary Art, Warsaw (2000); Galeria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna, Italy (1999); Life/Live, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville, Paris and The Brooklyn Museum, New York (1998); Duty Free Spirits, Lisson Gallery, London, (1997) and Camden Arts Centre, London (1996). Mat Collishaw currently has a solo exhibition titled Fountains Relief at Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal in North Yorkshire as part of their folly! exhibition series.
Recent group exhibitions include: A Weed in a Plant out of Place,Lismore Castle Arts, Ireland (2016); SerpentiForm, Museo di Roma, Rome (2016); Na wspak (ciała i ogrody, 9th Biennale of Photography, Arsenal Municipal Gallery, Poznań(2015); SUBSTANCE, Timothy Taylor, London (2015); L’inconscient pictòric(the pictorial unconscious), MNAC, Barcelona (2015); In Search of the Miraculous, Newlyn Art Gallery (2015); SNAP Art at the Aldeburgh Festival, Aldeburgh Music, Aldeburgh (2015); Nature Morte, Contemporary artists reinvigorate the Still-Life tradition, Hå gamle prestegard (2015); Gallery of Wonder, Northumberland; Woodhorn; Powburn; Spittal; Falstone; Alwinton; Newcastle (2015); Glasstress 2015 Gotika, Istituto Veneto di Scienze Lettere ed Arti, Palazzo Franchetti, Venice, (2015); NGORONGORO – Artist Weekend, Studiobuildings, Lehderstrasse, Berlin-Weissensee, (2015); “The time … and there was time”, from Helga de Alvear ‘ Collection, Fundación Helga de Alvear, Cáceres, (2015); How to Construct a Time Machine, MK Gallery, Milton Keynes,(2015); The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Visualized, University of Connecticut Contemporary Art Galleries, Mansfield, (2015); SMAC Art Gallery, curated by Keith Coventry and Helen A Pritchard, Cape Town (2014); Stations of the Cross, St Marylebone Church, London, (2014); Vanitas: Fashion and Art, Bass Museum of Art, Florida (2014); Corporeality and Sexuality, Votive Church, Vienna (2014); The Bigger Picture: Works from the 1990s, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York (2014); Out Of Our Heads, Shoreditch Town Hall, London, (2014); Diacore presents Ron Arad’s Last Train, Ron Arad Studio, London, (2014);Today’s Specials Brought to you by Pace London & Abdullah Al Turki, Pace Gallery, London, (2014); Deloitte Ignite 2014 -Myth – The Feather and the Flame, Royal Opera House, London, (2014).
Blain|Southern, Other Criteria and Thames & Hudson have published books with Collishaw’s work and he won XVI edition of the Pino Pascali Prize in July 2013.
The artist lives and works in London.
Image Above (detail):
The Centrifugal Soul
Acrylic, aluminium, steel, LED lights, motor, electronic circuitry, resin and paint
335 x 335 x 180 cm / (131⅞ x 131⅞ x 70⅞ in)
Edition of 2 + 1 AP
The artist discusses the influence of Caravaggio on his work with the curator of The National Gallery’s ‘Beyond Caravaggio’ exhibition.