Writing Art History Since 2002

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34Long | Cape Town

Matthew Hindley is a born image-maker who accords absolute primacy to sight. He fills his canvases with colour, dazzle, fantasy and wit, and whirls us on a roller-coaster ride through a Disneyland of the afterlife where cadavers and skeletons debouch from the grave and cut such a caper that we are left breathless with astonishment and surprise. The artist dispenses Viagra to the optic nerve, and ushers us into a posthumous realm so mind-boggling we feel like Captain Cook alighting on the Antipodes and glimpsing emus, kangaroos and other unimaginable species for the very first time.That Before My Time – the title of his solo show – provides such antic delight is indeed bizarre, for what the artist portrays are defenceless child-women grappling with a malign universe in which every force of nature conspires to violate, degrade and extinguish them. Hindley’s victimised maidens lead an imperilled existence in a landscape of catastrophe where the horizon combusts, meteors slice up the sky, volcanoes glower, Gothic castles go up in flames and daggers rain down from the heavens. In Over Time and The Girls want to be with the Girls, two ravished nymphets serenely undergo martyrdom. However, death brings no surcease for, as other images indicate, an implacably cruel and vengeful deity employs ghouls and wraiths to perpetuate our torments.This portrayal of the cosmos as an infernal machine is pushed to such a point of paranoiac exaggeration that the sublime cedes to the ridiculous, and lapses into burlesque. One suspects that the artist expresses sacred themes in a frolicsome language of fantasy and caprice in order to liberate himself from the clasp of a strict Catholic upbringing, and dissolve his morbid obsessions with guilt, sin, sexuality and chastisement. Hammer Horror is blended with Loony Tunes, and the resultant metaphysical slapstick transcends the personal and attains universal goals. Its butt becomes the hellfire and brimstone fanaticism that is driving fundamentalists of all persuasions to wreak such irrevocable havoc on the contemporary world. This exhibition provides a revised gospel that adjures ideology, and bids us place our faith in the flesh, and the simple human urge to love and be loved in return.]Hindley is a fantasist. He ushers us into a habitat of wonder and delight, a realm as newly minted as the jungles of Douanier Rousseau, and like the French customs-officer, Hindley documents his findings with wide-eyed incredulity and scrupulous precision. An atmosphere of hoary medievalism prevails, and this is saturated with overtones of Bosch, Bruegel and other great northern visionaries. Hindley weds the luminary and chromatic excitement of Altdorfer’s skyscapes to a Surrealist hey-diddle-diddle. Groves grow out of the clouds; scandalously pink and penile serpents coil around stars and daisies sprout out from fried fish. There are hints of Ensor, and, as the mood veers from fairy tale to nightmare, both Goya and the brothers Grimm are grist to Hindley’s mill.Comics, cartoons, puppets and toys are another source, and they explain why Hindley’s parodies of traditional Catholic altarpieces provoke an enthralled frisson of spooky and charming mock horror rather than awe. His dumpy ghosts wearing sheets and peeping out of eyehole slits, and his endearingly clumsy, bumbling skeletons are redolent of playroom and toytown, rather than the graveyard. Even his serpent stems from the Snakes and Ladders games-board rather than Eden’s undergrowth. In this pop-up book world of play-play and pretend, whimsical details like the frothy ectoplasmic hosiery worn by Hindley’s flouncy lady ghosts strip Satan and his bogeymen of all their terror. Before My Time is an exhilarating act of exorcism and psychic cleansing that establishes Hindley as a spellbinding and devastatingly original new talent.

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