Please LIKE me
One afternoon in London in the mid-1930s, Australian author Patrick White was walking with the artist Francis Bacon.
Crossing the river together by a temporary footbridge while the permanent structure was under repair, Bacon became entranced by the abstract graffiti scribbled in pencil on its timbered side. Alone, I don't expect I would have noticed the effortless convolutions of line he pointed out for me to admire. To discover something as subtle as it was simple made me feel quite elated.
There is also an account from this period of another friend chancing upon Bacon standing motionless in the street and staring, transfixed, at an empty hording which was spattered by the drips of paint that had inadvertently landed there during months of sign-writing on the hording next to it. Bacon, who was acutely attuned to visual suggestion and signifiers, seemed mesmerised by the beauty of the accidental blobs and marks.
In Matthew Bax’s latest series of paintings, Please Like Me, we are invited to enter a reverie similar to that experienced by Bacon. These works also spring from the beautiful ‘rightness’ of chance and accident. But Bax’s sublime paintings are the result of the artist reacting to an unfortunate aspect of the modern world: the fact that we no longer know how to just shut up. The paintings are Bax’s attempt to find a visual allusion to the constant bombardment of meaningless chatter we encounter every waking hour, and the continual demands of others for our attention. The title of the exhibition, Please Like Me, might well be the mantra bellowing through all of our heads in this age of electronic ego-confirmation.
Today in the Western world, as never before, we are bombarded with the needy ego-demands of others. Billions of iPhone ‘selfies’ saturate the Internet. Every cappuccino and toasted sandwich is recorded on Instagram and sent out across the planet as if it is of earth-shattering importance. Every ‘funny’ antic of every ‘adorable’ kitten appears on YouTube in a vacuous torrent of mundanity. Where will it end? Can it ever end? Undoubtedly, no.
Bax has spoken of his interest in the visual stimulation of street life and in particular the remnants of street flyers and posters that are torn and discarded over time, leaving only surreal scraps of their original messages and images behind. Artists from a previous generation, such as Gwyther Irwin, Mimo Rotella, Raymond Haines and Jacques Villegle, also found inspiration in the fractured information imparted by randomly torn poster and advertisements. It should also be recalled that Francis Bacon delighted in chance visual connections that occurred when photographs and scraps of other imagery would over time work their way to the top of the slag-heap that was his studio floor. But these artists were all working in a quieter time, where introspection was arguably easier to achieve.
In this Internet-age, Bax has arrived at a visual metaphor for our very noisy, increasingly homogenised human interactions. And for this, I suggest that you please like him.
Steve Cox, 2013.