17 September – 28 November 2021
I Am Just Here traces the evolution of Whalen’s art career and his continuous exploration of the relations between object and person, in addition to revealing the peculiarities of the different meanings underlying the twenty-two new works—sculptures in the round and 2D sculptures or “wall reliefs”—featured in the exhibition.
“The process of creating these pieces over the last year has given me an outlet for expressing the gamut of physical, mental and emotional highs and lows that we have all experienced in our own ways, together and alone,” explains the artist Mark Whalen. I Am Just Here is a reflection on how people relate to daily hurdles.
The artist's creative process begins with a pencil and paper, as he maintains a continual flow of scribbled notes which are often put away for months or even years before being retrieved. Whalen uses these initial written thoughts and adapts the concepts that are still relevant and interesting enough to pursue into drawings. These sketches are then adapted into digital renders and printed from 3D printers in his Los Angeles studio. A process of trial and error often occurs to ensure the perfect size for each piece, and once the exact proportions have been achieved the maquettes are cast in aluminium.
As the final step, the pieces that emerge from this process are painted in Whalen's signature style: bold, saturated hues with matt and chrome finishes.
In 2019 Mark Whalen explored the use of airbrush in his earlier pieces and he has incorporated that medium on this occasion to illustrate emotions in a more hyperrealist way. We see this, for example, in i am just here (2021), running hot (2021) and i´m fine (2021), 2D sculptures or “wall reliefs” composed of close-ups of his characters and everyday objects that jut out from the canvas.
The works on display reveal his signature style, although for this exhibition he has brought in new processes, such as playing with iconic and nostalgic objects, body language and illusion to emphasise different emotions, using aluminium and polyurethane as his materials.
The meaning of his sculptures is revealed as a stacking of disturbances, conundrums and entertaining questions about life and beyond. His pieces represent a synthesis of reflection that oscillates between the disturbing and the suggestion of amusing enigmas which he invites viewers to discover for themselves.
With their suggestive poses, the genderfluid figures are reminiscent of kitsch with a retro-futurist air. The heads and hands that represent his characters are charged with highly expressive gestures such as laughter, surprise, cynicism or indolence.
His sculptures adopt the form of ambiguous figures in saturated colours that stack, merge and integrate with everyday objects or forms, such as a tongue, gloves, pens, candles or a piece of marble. Some of these elements can be found in the pieces happy go lucky (2021), in which inflated gloves draw a smile on the figure's face; up against it (2021), a rear view of a bust with its hands on the wall; and high hopes (2021), in which one of his signature faces is flanked by what appear to be two tall candles.
Other examples of how he uses everyday objects in his work are run dry (2021), hustle (2021) and all ears (2021), featuring a bust with a pen embedded in its forehead, another where a pencil penetrates the head and comes out of the ears, and a bust on its side with a pencil emerging from the opposite ear.
The artists also expresses his personal fears through feelings of loneliness, isolation and helplessness, sensations which he conveys by means of the decomposition effects we see in works like count down (2021) and i am just here (2021).
His sculptures also include totemic pieces like group session (2021), in which heads stacked one on top of the other create a type of leaning tower; about balance (2021), an allusion to a child's mocking gesture in which index figures pop inflated cheeks; out lookers (2021), two busts one on top of the other in which the eyes are covered with two gloves simulating hands; and 3 half hitches (2021) in which three heads stacked face down one on top of the other perform the action of smoking a cigar, making them seem like sausages.
Mark Whalen (Sydney, Australia, 1982) received his diploma in graphic design from Martin College, Sydney. Today, he lives and works in Los Angeles.
Some of the artists who have inspired the evolution of his work are M.C. Escher, most notably for the way in which he studied mathematics, symmetry and science and applied it in his work; Franz West, for the method he employs to build unconventional forms; and Erwin Wrum, for his depictions of illogical compositions.
Whalen has been showing his work at international galleries since 2006, including exhibitions at Over the Influence, Los Angeles (2019); Yavuz Gallery, Art Basel Hong Kong; National Gallery of Victoria (2018); RMIT School of Art, Melbourne (2013); National touring exhibition, National Gallery of Australia (2010-2011); Penrith Regional Gallery, Australia (2010); and MACRO, Museum of Contemporary Art, Rome (2009).
His work is held in the collections of Artbank, National Gallery of Australia and Mainland Art Fund.
*José Antonio Sierra es Corresponsal para Andalucía y Coordinador de Relaciones Internacionales de “EuroMundoGlobal” (“EMG”)