The starting point for many of Jonathan Monk’s works is something made by someone else. Replicating everything from handwritten notices to world-famous works of art, Monk has developed a diverse body of work that encompasses almost every possible form. Re-making and adapting a vast array of images, signs and objects, he brings irony, wit and, at times, autobiography to bear on the items he references. His approach is similar to that of the musician recording a cover version of a song: always demonstrating some fondness for, and interest in, the original.
In recent years, Monk has created versions of works by some of the most well-known – and highly valued – artists of our time, such as Jeff Koons and Gerhard Richter. In 2008, he had multiple copies made of a famous and instantly recognisable work by Andy Warhol: a portrait of Chairman Mao. Made by hand in China, Monk’s copies were shown together as a unique work entitled Andy Warhol’s Chairman Maos Hand Made in The People’s Republic of China (2008), inverting the questions of origin, value, reproduction and skill triggered by Warhol’s screen-printed original.
Monk’s series of ‘holiday paintings’, exhibited at the Gallery of Modern Art One in Edinburgh, were made and first exhibited while he was living in Glasgow. They are all derived from handwritten signs in travel agents’ windows advertising cheap package holidays. He has reproduced the signs, making them all the same size, with the writing mimicking that found on the originals.
First exhibited at the CCA, Glasgow in 1992 in an exhibition entitled On the Cheap, the paintings were sold individually, each for the price of the holiday they advertised. In doing so, Monk emphasised the questions of choice and value suggested by the content of the signs, effectively offering the viewer a choice between a short holiday and a painting.
As one critic has written, ‘Jonathan Monk’s work seems predicated on testing out possible exceptions to the rule that remakes and sequels are never quite as good as the originals.’