Marcus Harvey: Inselaffe at Jerwood Gallery

With a wry sensibility, Leeds-born Marcus Harvey explores  what it means to be British, deconstructing identity through a collision of humour and art. His contributions include  figurative paintings and sculptures that seek to circulate imagery that is emblematic of a patriotic, if brutish, sense of Britishness. Particularly relevant within the context of the EU debate and the refugee crisis, the artist’s work are at once serious in their political engagement, yet playful in their execution.

His new exhibition  at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, continues with his caricature-esque response to his own culture. Entitled Inselaffe, which translates from German to “Island Monkeys” evokes mimicry from the offset through a contextually derogatory, yet light-hearted term relating to the British public. Harvey runs with this parody, and creates a series of collaged  and sculptural political figures – Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair being two examples – which comment on national identity as a global issue.

Notable within the exhibition is the three-dimensional reclining figure of Thatcher, who, whilst littered with a pig’s head and beached crabs, is sexualised on a podium of her own island. Summoning a sense of power and almost pride in its assertiveness, Harvey unapologetically undermines the politics associated with the figure, yet still emblazons Thatcher with status. An undeniably important female figure that shaped Britain, Harvey recognises the problematic repercussions of her gender within government, and the wider wave which she left behind: “whilst musing on the personification of a nation, through the image of a female reclining nude – Margaret Thatcher/Britannia – nothing living could be summoned unless it was the sum of its anxieties, again both political and cultural. Collaged from wood and meat, literally pig’s heads and plates, the figure is alive and luxuriating in its admission of jingoism and greed.”

Further to his striking sculptures, a number of paintings are brought to Jerwood, which illustrate Harvey’s continual battle between the romance of the physical medium, and the sharp truthfulness of photography behind the images: “rather than emulate photography in painting technique, I use photography as a backdrop and as a world to contextualise the narrative that the paint addresses, whilst allowing the paint to become as extreme in its manifestation of ‘matter’ as possible.”

In parallel to this jarring relationship of media, Harvey demonstrates antagonism to the British psyche in a series of works that cover more politicians, landscapes, criminals and war heroes. Paint is layered thickly, almost proudly, as a material in its own right. In this sense, the physical paint can, by envisioning Britain, be swept up into its history and stubbornness.

Marcus Harvery, Inselaffe opens at Jerwood Gallery 16 July, running until 16 October. For more information:

1.  Marcus Harvey, Maggie Island, 2016 © Prudence Cuming Associates. Courtesy the artist / Vigo Gallery / Jerwood Gallery.