Following on from a successful trail of sell-out shows in Australia and the US in 2014, internationally acclaimed Australian Pop painter Johnny Romeo returns with an exhilarating series of works that reflect on mortality and the vitality of youth. Painted in his inimitable Neo-Expressionist Pop style, WASTED YEARS is a visual tour de force that engages our morbid fascination with tragic modern day heroes. Romeo draws from an eclectic cast of bygone icons, ranging from the Notorious BIG to Lou Reed and Amy Winehouse.
Taking its title from an album by LA hardcore-punk band OFF!, WASTED YEARS examines the juncture between youthful abandon and the grim realities of death, between ‘living fast and dying young.’ The series bristles with the sharpened immediacy of punk rock, with Romeo’s fallen stars dripping with a palpable attitude. This can be seen in the work ‘Chatter Gas’, where a Technicolour Sid Vicious looks on menacingly at the audience amidst a flurry of expressive fiery hues. Reducing his portraits to its bare essentials, Romeo’s Sid Vicious is the visual embodiment of the immense power that can be drawn from simple, snarling three-chord punk.
However, like the most memorable of punk rock tunes, swirls of melody and sweetened visual hooks temper Johnny Romeo’s portraits with a vibrant Pop sensibility. Romeo’s vivacious colour palette is in full play, concentrated into dense blocks of pastel hues that help to heighten the impact of his Technicolour visions, injecting his ruminations on death with a sense of liveliness and urgency.
Adopting a stripped down approach, the simplicity with which Romeo has approached his portraits imbues them with both a potent visual presence and a simmering emotional resonance. Eschewing his usual frenzied lines for silhouetting and a more controlled linear aesthetic, there is something haunting and spectral to Romeo’s portraits. Despite their looming presence, each of the stars is drawn in simplified, at times disjointed swathes of black, creating an interesting visual tension between presence and absence. The interplay between the sumptuous silhouettes and Romeo’s colour arrangements suggest an inevitable acceptance of fate’s cruel hand, where sepulchral shadows slowly suffocate Romeo’s confectionary sweet hues of youth into submission.
Johnny Romeo’s adoption of a screen-printing like aesthetic echoes the influence of Andy Warhol’s iconic portraits. Like Warhol’s works, there is an underlying melancholia and sense of detachment to Romeo’s figures. Icons such as Biggie Smalls and 2Pac look on with steely resolve beyond the pictorial plane, their expressions carrying a weighty sense of gravitas that combines youthful longing with fatalistic resignation. By focusing closer on the faces of his subject matter, Romeo has created an eerily intimate series of portraits that challenges the audience to confront our own mortality.
WASTED YEARS is a visually striking and powerful collection of unmistakably unique Neo-Expressionist Pop works that sees Johnny Romeo at his most introspective. Combining his penchant for electrifying arrangements with a potent and paired down approach to portraiture, Romeo looks to his own bygone heroes and asks the simple question: ‘with wasted years they threw it all away, wonder what they’d be like today.’
With Johnny Romeo in attendance, WASTED YEARS opens at 6-8:30pm on Friday 28th November at 12 Gallery in association with Allpress Gallery, 8 Drake Street, Freemans Bay, Auckland, New Zealand.
The exhibition will run until December 11th 2014.
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November 19, 2014