Marc Etherington has been touted as an outsider in the art world. Not having come from a formal fine arts background, he is a self-taught artist with a practice that is driven by an inner compulsion to make art. I have recently become acquainted with Etherington’s work, having seen it displayed as part of a number of contemporary exhibitions at galleries that are well integrated into the mainstream art scene, and it has made me question his ‘Outsider’ status.
I first became aware of Etherington’s work a few months ago when looking into the collection and curatorial practice of well-known ‘Outsider Art’ collector Peter Fay, who named Etherington an important ‘one to watch’. I had already started to delve, albeit slightly, into the realm of Outsider and Self-Taught art with a certain degree of interest, however, I found his style particularly appealing and I had to see more.
Etherington’s works make very obvious nods to popular culture. Referencing contemporary icons like the Kardashian’s, McDonald’s and Justin Bieber. He also gives a slow and deliberate wink to pop culture of the past. In a recent exhibition of his work at Darlinghurst’s Gallery 9, ‘Marc Making’, works on show featured appearances by an unlikely combination of superheroes, Lil Wayne, Jean Paul Gaultier, the full cast of Star Wars and an army of Mr T’s.
Some might describe Etherington’s approach as naïve, but I think there is a lot to be said about the element of fun that comes with the work. There is an underlying sense of humour in his paintings and small sculptures that are further enhanced by their titles. For example, His Secret Shame (2013), a monochrome depiction of a room plastered with posters of teenage heartthrobs both new and old – A prone smoking figure looks up at his pop music idols. Bieber beams down alongside Miley, One Direction, The Backstreet Boys and a host of other ‘stars’. There is a lot at play here, on one side, Etherington seems to poke fun at our society who shines the spotlight on a bunch of bright-eyed booty shakers. But, at the same time, it is hard to ignore the element of nostalgia and fondness for these past favourites, a feeling that adds another layer of charm to his simply constructed works.
Pop culture explorations aside, let’s come back to the ‘Outsider’ V. ‘Insider’ conundrum. Yes, Etherington may lack some formal art training, but it seems that he is making deliberate inroads into the mainstream art world. He was recently included as a finalist in the 2014 John Fries Award for his work Darjeeling Limited (2014) and in the past few years has been included in a number of group exhibitions in galleries across Sydney. Is that really the CV of an artistic outsider?
Irrespective of his status in the art world, the lightness, fun and charm of Etherington’s paintings and sculptures lightens up a world that has a long reputation of taking itself far too seriously.
You can see more work here.
Images here, thanks to Marc Etherington