Following the success of 2011’s ‘Illustrated Guide for the Confused’, Michael Chanarin returns to Eleven Spitalfields Gallery with this exhibition of new work entitled, ‘Illustrated Guide to Wisdom v3.1’.
In his earlier body of work, two years ago Chanarin drew inspiration and imagery from mid-20th Century print publications. Earlier works displayed a pairing of imagery appropriated from books devoted to education or instruction and linking these images with lines of text, mostly fabricated horoscope readings, loaded with dire warning, really sound advice, and also humorous.
The results were described by Stephen McNeilly as containing, ‘weighty themes, but treated with a light touch that knows the weight of the narrative under focus. The artist doesn’t charge us to dwell too long on any individual aspect: the relation itself between the disparate parts and the creative process underpinning them, being the real subject of the work.’
There is a clear lineation between these and Chanarin’s more recent works on display here. The stylized, illustrative aesthetic will be familiar to viewers as being from the conventions of young and teenage children’s literature of the 1930’s thru 1960’s. A time of mostly pre-photographic illustration. A time when illustrators working in pen and ink produced extraordinary drawings. In a way these paintings by Chanarin reflect a respectful tribute to these mostly anonymous, often brilliant illustrators. Appropriating, collaging and distorting their work to form provocative imagery implying a new and perhaps absurd or surreal narrative is a true combined act of homage, creativity and recycling.
The absence of text and the interaction between various characters ensure the narrative qualities of this series of works are quite different to those that preceded them. The distraction of text creating a framework of understanding, real or imagined is absent. The compositions however contain the same ambiguity, the same surreal elements, the same suggestion of parallel universes interacting. They have perhaps more depth with elements rooted in more homogeneous environments.
The source for most of the images, at the time of their publication, 1930’s thru 1960’s provided entertainment and inspiration to a generation of children. In doing so they also bestow a foundation of significant influence as regards gender identity, sense of self, moral frameworks along with a few stereotypical constructions encompassing less than subtle prejudices. Through the telling of tales and inclusion of archetypal characters, children were encouraged to distinguish right from wrong. Chanarin takes these familiar elements and arranges them in a sometimes playful, sometimes subversive way.