Alan Michael’s paintings and photo-based works draw on cultural and social history and cast a critical eye on cultural nostalgia and the anxiety of the contemporary condition. Weaving together references to subculture that were at one time charged with meaning, Michael hints at their casual re-use as emblems of class, style and taste. Two important movements of late twentieth-century art – Pop Art and Photorealism– provide formal reference points for his work.
Michael’s paintings adopt a similar approach to the way that advertising and the media combine images of ‘high art’ or cultural resonance with banal everyday commodities. Sources from art history, design and fashion appear alongside plants, cars, food, text, logos and other commonplace objects. Michael approaches these subjects with the same indifference – isolating, splitting and repeating his subjects within the frame of the canvas so that they appear coolly detached and anonymous. Serial representations of iconic British culture and emblems of the middle classes, such as the classic brogue shoe and the new Mini Cooper, collide with the stylistic symbols of 1980s fashion, music and contemporary experience. References to subculture and the artist’s own life also feature in the work; quotations from Glaswegian bands appear as innocuous wallpaper-like backgrounds in his earlier paintings.
The seemingly disparate nature of the combinations of images and references belies Michael’s meticulous and labour-intensive process. His paintings border on the forensic in their detail, yet Michael is more interested in the display of pointless labour and repetition than achieving perfection. His work reflects wider shifts within Internet culture and the vast economy of the circulation of images.
Echoing these themes, the exhibition Res Gestae at David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles (2011) combined repeated images of the high-street fashion, cult designers at work and examples of a final-year student presentation. It reflected on moments when general cultural ambience was on the verge of giving way to celebrity or commercial success. Paintings of well-known fashion designers alternated with imagery taken from wholesale magazines or advertising, combining references to the amateur, the subcultural and the rarefied.