In the homeland of Banksy, anonymous street artist Jerkface has had his London debut at the Maddox Gallery with a solo and online exhibition entitled “Villainy.” Jerkface’s appropriation of iconic cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, and Snoopy flip expectations on their head as the figures find themselves robbed of eyes, reconstructed, and re-contextualized. Jerkface takes inspiration from the vivid palette and bold design of Memphis style, marrying the unbridled dynamism of youth with the clean, contemporary aesthetic of geometric abstraction. The Maddox Gallery facade was decked with an iconic Jerkface motif, the Simpsons’ pink donut. The theme continued inside, with the rosy glaze and giant sprinkles covering the ceiling and walls, as if the goop were slowly dripping. The effect is stunning, immersing audiences in an alternative, twisted Disney experience.
Like the legendary MF Doom, whose album Madvillainy rocked New York and the world beyond in 2004, Jerkface assumes the alter ego of a cartoon villain haunting the edges of Gotham. The alter ego that both great artists took on is an homage to the two-faced megalopolis that raised them, at once gritty, industrial, and unforgiving, and a playground for tourists and the uber-rich whose presence consistently pushes the city to gentrify into one large shopping mall. By bringing in the familiar mascots of global capitalism, Jerkface challenges his audience to simultaneously confront the commercialization of life while diving into the heady comforts of nostalgia. Though his work is rooted in the themes and struggles of his native city, Jerkface expects that his work will translate well to London, a city with a deep and difficult past. “My work is universal in many regards and seems to strike a chord throughout the world. New York and London are also very similar, and I’ve had a following in London from the beginning. London has always been at the top of my list to leave my mark on, so I’m very excited for my upcoming show,” Jerkface said.
Jerkface’s global appeal connects to his longtime influence, the Memphis Group. The Memphis group was a design and architecture collective in 1980s Italy, whose work also pushed the boundaries of commercial and fine art. Once called “the shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price,” the group used bold, colorful, geometric designs that have come to represent global commercial aesthetics. Like Jerkface, the Memphis Group designers had great respect for and interest in middle-class tastes, an engagement that led to their enormous success. And while Jerkface’s intervention as a graffiti artist was an act of reclamation for his city, his canvas works aim to subvert the rigidity of the art world, opening up space for a more egalitarian rule.
Compelled to stay off the streets, the prolific artist, who is versed in graffiti techniques, canvas, acrylic, and even the design of Plastiform art toys, toiled in his studio. Taking inspiration from Banksy’s 30-day run in New York back in 2018, in which he produced a new piece each day, Jerkface embarked on a similar spree, creating one piece after another. The resulting effort pushed his style to evolve into even more whimsical and nostalgic images that take advantage of his prodigious control of acrylic to re-create graphic illustrations. Maddox Gallery CEO John Russo says that “the evolution and popularity of the work by Jerkface is phenomenal. He has become one of the most sought-after artists of our generation due to his commitment to iconography, and his reinvention of characters that inspire us to feel whimsical and nostalgic.” The results of this 30-day exercise, titled “30 days of Jerk,” are available at the “Villainy” exhibition.
The exhibition, having opened in London on June 24 and running through July 15, marks a new relationship between gallery and artist: as of 2020, Jerkface is represented exclusively and globally by Maddox Gallery. Maddox notes that, while the world opens up and travel continues to be a challenge, an immersive online twin to the IRL exhibition makes the unique artistic venture available to viewers around the world. You can also expect to see Jerkface out in the wild once more. “Being that everything has been shut down, I made a choice to stay in the studio and out of the street. It’s given me a lot more time to focus on developing the style on canvas, which is where I thrive. As much as I love painting walls, it can be disruptive to having a healthy routine,” Jerkface says, “but as nice as it’s been to have this time, I’m ready to get back to the walls.”
Discover the exhibition online at Maddox Gallery.