The Royal Standard, Liverpool, specialises in bringing to the city contemporary artists who might be described as ’emerging’. Currently, this means exhibiting White Teeth in the Planetarium, a new body of work by Glasgow-based James McLardy that is inspired by Liverpool – specifically, it represents ‘Liverpool’s Queensway and Kingsway ventilation buildings in conversation’. The show’s title, McLardy reveals when we speak, is a reference to the writing of Robert Smithson and to the experience of “a journey through a space that is trying to suspend disbelief.”
McLardy is an artist with a skill for surface and shape – pretty handy in his work as a sculptor. His works are all finished differently; curious hands itch to skim their various surfaces. They are given ‘personalities’, with layers of bright cyan paint overlaid with an aging tarnish of copper leaf, or covered with wax and then brutally finished with a hot iron. They possess a secret shining pool of oil, or they appear as if straight from the factory in their black plastic smoothness.
His forms are loaded with contrasts: municipal and domestic, inside and outside, male and female, monolithic and twiddly. Reminding us of some of the 1930s structures that have helped to define Liverpool’s character, they draw our attention to buildings where functionality and Art Deco’s highly decorative styling align.
Negative space and the things left out play as important a role in this exhibition as what is present. The risk in an artist investigating modernism is that they can tend to get lumped into the bracket of postmodernism – and that by referring to dated styles, their work can appear dated also. McLardy, however, makes well-worn references seem unfamiliar, and delivers his playful analysis of art history and public spaces with so much style I would forgive him anything.
First published on The Skinny, May 2013