What sort of art would you make at the end of the world?
Canberra-born artist, Luke Cornish - aka ELK - doesn't need to wonder because he viewed 2020 as the apocalypse, which resulted in his latest exhibition, Don't Shoot the Messenger, at aMBUSH Gallery Kambri.
Challenging viewers with his no-holds-barred choice of subject matters and materials was one of Cornish's aims in this latest exhibition. For example, among the artworks included is an upside-down figure of Christ on a cross, paper currency from dozens of different countries adorned with confronting images, and a range of weapons - from riot shields to hunting knives, meat cleavers, swords and cutthroat razors.
"I started making this body of work at the start of COVID when it did feel like the end of the world," Cornish says.
"There was so much uncertainty that people were fighting over toilet paper and it was a crazy time. I set up a little apocalypse bunker in my studio with my PlayStation and my surround sound and a big axe on the wall for when the zombies came.
"Someone came around and asked me why I had an axe on the wall and I was like, 'It's an artwork and I'm going to paint on it'. And I realised that was a great idea.
"The theme of the work is sort of questioning at what point of societal collapse does the weapon become more valuable than the artwork?"
There are works inspired by trips to countries where citizens have protested en masse, such as Hong Kong and Venezuela, and marches held for the Black Lives Matter movement around the world.
"It's really is holding a mirror up to society. It's literally like saying I was here, this is what's happening right now," Cornish says.
"And you know, a lot of the feedback I get is that it's very violent but it's no more violent than what's happening on this planet right now. Especially with the situation that America is in at the moment."
The timing of the creation of Don't Shoot the Messenger coincided with Cornish deciding to amicably part ways with the two commercial galleries representing him.
He had a big year planned to kick off his newfound freedom away from commercial art, including an exhibition in Germany, a mural commission in Denmark and a residency in Mongolia. But when COVID hit, that all vanished overnight.
"I had this newfound freedom to paint whatever I wanted to paint and to make whatever I wanted to make without having to be too concerned about if anyone was going to buy it and for that matter, without being concerned if anyone was going to like it," Cornish says.
"It's sort of getting back to the art that I was creating before I entered the commercial galleries.
"I just had this amazing year planned and it just kind of vanished overnight. But to be honest, it was perfect. It couldn't have been better.
"I know a lot of people have had a really tough time but it was the first time in 10 years of exhibiting full time that I just stopped. I just really started questioning my direction and questioning everything."
- Don't Shoot the Messenger will be at aMBUSH Gallery until April 11.
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