Josh Foley

Josh Foley’s fourth solo show at Despard Gallery follows from a jam-packed year in 2020, which included an immersive exhibition at the Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery in association with MONA FOMA, and a performance work by his alter-ego, Xydep Xydahlia. Here, Foley returns to painting in the vocabulary of troubling, dis-ordering excess for which he has become known, digesting and extrapolating on both art and anecdotal histories.

Foley’s most recent body of work responds to the state of hyper-saturation which characterises our informational and affective lives in the present. Many of these paintings respond to distinctly contemporary stories, perceptive experiences and technologies; this is, in a sense, post-internet art, with the added irony of being carried out in the ‘analogue’ medium of paint.

Bad Algorithms, 2021, for instance, places round fruit – that familiar trope of still life – on an eerie, surrealistic flat floating surface. This surface, in Foley’s own description, recalls the flat-earth conspiracy videos toward which the Youtube algorithm seems to endlessly lead us. Colour swirls and pools along the planes in this picture, warping both the  fruits and the flat-earth surface upon which they rest, heavily. There is so much sense information here, that is, that a sheer excess of data presses tightly against the railings of form, but never quite breaks them. In Foley’s world, the algorithm cannot hold.

His paintings feel poised at the tipping point just before total hysteria: they reference in reams, and chaotically. Foley decomposes a full range of art-historical genres and tropes, including the landscape, the still life, and the pastoral, in his figuration of animals. Taking all of this material beneath his brush, and unpicking it in sickly-bright colour, Foley’s work rots through his artistic inheritance. History is oxidised, over-sugared and churned up to the skin of the canvas. 

In Blood of Christa, 2021, bottles, cups, and fruits float on a legless table in space. Though a classic case of form fermenting away, this painting also bears a conspicuous drip of paint right on the top edge of the canvas. Puncturing the smooth texture of the background, this drip reminds us of Foley’s sustained commitment to his medium, and its immutable physical presence before the artist and viewer alike. Quite unlike the unmoored sense and historical data which run rampant throughout these works, that is, paint itself is resolute: it is here. In this way, Foley’s medium carries his message while also offering a form of resistance to it. The algorithm cannot hold – but perhaps paint can.

Josh Foley: The Spectre of Volatile Appearances
25 August – 18 September 2021
Despard Gallery, Hobart

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