The exhibition ‘A Debris of Divas: Marie Antoinette and the recycling of a revolution’ opens Saturday, 5 December 2015 at The Gallery at Grande Provence, Grande Provence Estate, Main Road, Franschhoek
Continuing his investigation into the social downfall, relevance and ultimate iconography of divas, queens and stars (previously Brenda Fassie, Little Edie Beale and Frida Kahlo), Alex Hamilton sets off on an artistic journey with Marie Antoinette, the doomed queen of France, as his main muse and obsession, and draws interesting political parallels between her demise and the current South African ‘reign’. Is a neck ever too elegant, too royal, too laden with diamonds or in fact too fat to be chopped off by a people’s revolution?
Trapped in power, the Queen of France was astonished that ‘her people’ or ‘adopted countrymen’ loathed her so much. Her sense of duty, her devotion to her husband and king and political bravado were only the glamorous and spectacular façades to an insecure and very real person. So can these vulnerabilities be seen in paintings of the queen? Driven by a passion for research, Hamilton paints the portraits with a view to find the reality behind the façade.
Storytelling, fibs, rumours and disguise was just a way to control the people of Paris in the 18th Century. The assumption seems to have been ‘I am living to the max, therefore I am in control!’
This fascinating aspect of Marie Antoinette’s life is surprisingly still a relevant issue in contemporary society. Respect is often sought after by showing off the spoils of power.
The decay of glamour
All power has metaphorical ‘cracks’ and will eventually disintegrate. To symbolise this decay Hamilton uses old rusty baking trays, vintage guillotines and building implements to portray the fragility of beauty and glamour as well as the contemporary obsession with fame and fake beauty.
‘The cumbersome brocade of ceremony’
This installation will be the centrepiece of the exhibition and constructed with vintage and decaying materials. A monumental soft sculpture with a message of foreboding destruction, this is the first life-size art doll made by the artist.
With this exhibition Hamilton, known for his pop-art stencil portraits, chose to depart from this method and return to painting. This body of work includes a number of acrylic on canvas paintings, some works on found objects as well as soft sculpture. A collection of portraits painted on discarded cookie trays playfully refers to the rumoured ‘Let them eat cake’ comment made by the queen, but also resembles the hall of mirrors, again commenting on the perceived beauty and well-being in what was really a very decayed society.
With Marie Antoinette’s complex personal life and with the contemporary South African references, the exhibition explores satirical commentary. After all, her power was fake and short-lived and soon it was not only jellies being served up, but also her head.
‘In the decade and a half in which I have been handling Alex Hamilton’s work, his sheer inventiveness has always amazed me,’ notes Trent Read – Director of The Gallery at Grande Provence.
‘So many artists develop a “style” and spend the rest of their careers developing a theme. Not so with Hamilton, whose mastery of various techniques and whose knowledge of pop culture is immense. Sean O’Casey famously called the genius PG Wodehouse “English literature’s performing flea” and I can affectionately and admiringly give the equivalent South African arts title to Alex!
‘With this latest show he has reverted to painting and his lush and gorgeous palette fits his chosen subject so very well indeed.’
Pay a visit to The Gallery at Grande Provence in Franschhoek to see the exhibition from 5 December 2015.
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