The art of Merlin Carpenter embraces sudden shifts of
style and emphasis. He paints, but doubt is created as to whether
any particular medium is the solution. Despite this there is a
default setting in the work which reappears when all else fails: Pop
Art, direct appropriation. The four paintings in this show depict
members of the rock group Mansun and look like hand painted rip-offs
of mid-70s Andy Warhol silkscreens. However the source is actually
cover art by Pete Nevin from the 1998 single
Being a Girl (Part One).
These paintings are not quite as easy
as they appear. Look more closely and you will find yourself sucked
into a kind of social history of the 90s. Mansun (1995-2003) were a
big group for a while off the back of Britpop, but their ambitious
musical productions went bonkers and moreover were deliberately
ruined with irony. Each album contradicted and voided the last.
B-sides were more important than A-sides. Theirs was a
context-specific critique embedded within the music industry and
directed against its idea of success, leading them from No. 1 to
obscurity. However, soon enough Mansun will be rediscovered by the
music press. Carpenter's only chance to deal with this information
is now, whilst they are still failures. To an extent he is helping
bring them back within the fold, but without any benefit to himself
or them this resembles the last gasp of a temporary negative
The works in the show repeat a
specific history: from Richard Avedon's solarised posters of The
Beatles, to Warhol's Mick Jagger prints, to the cover of Talk
Talk Talk by The Psychedelic Furs (1981); and more recently
Julian Opie's gormless images of Blur, and Jeremy Deller's use of
Manic Street Preachers fans. Music and art have merged, but badly.
It only seems to work when art provides the icon for a given belief
in music. However, in the case of Carpenter and Mansun their
respective conflictual stances towards the marketisation of
knowledge erase both sides of the crossover.