By Sonya Laswed, photographs by Willamz Omope
Attending on a blustery London night – the warm glow of the Westbank Gallery beckoned. Approaching the twinkling lights set among the foliage and branches – it really was a fairy-tale entrance to Elmo Hood’s solo exhibition: Down the Rabbit Hole.
Upon entering, the piece “Wonderland” feels like the star of the journey – a slow introduction from the light of day with its bold use of color delivered by strong use of the palette knife thrusting us into the world of Kings, Queens, and Alice and her assorted friends.
The playing card collages are a particular highlight of Hood’s show. All at once recognisable yet taking on an anthropomorphic quality with their very human problems, these cards speak of broken hearts, love triangles, seduction, and lust. It is all there, and therein lies the genius.
The medium appears so simple and yet Hood manages to convey so much humanity through something as banal as a playing card. “Broken Queen” was particularly moving. Hands raised against the horrors surrounding her. Burnt, damaged, torn- yet somehow still intact; charred remains of hearts lay at her feet. Perhaps hers? Perhaps the remains of past lovers? The playing card collages reference the obvious such as gambling (with emotions), the risk-taking and the “games” that we all play in our emotionally complicated lives.
Moving on from the collages we transition to the large-scale pieces. Two standout pieces for me were “No Gods, No Masters” and “Your Crown is a Paper Party Hat.”
“No Gods, No Masters” is particularly eye-catching as it sparkles in its oil paint on gold leaf background. It is very much a commentary on the duality of our existence; the light and dark within each and every one of us. How we are the ultimate masters of our own fate. We are captains of our souls who can master their course without bowing to external pressure.
“Your Crown is a Paper Party Hat” is a mixed media piece incorporating oil and silver leaf on canvas evoking a clear connection to Alice in Wonderland. It plays on the Queen of Hearts theme using the palette knife quite deliberately building up texture while avoiding too much blending. It makes for a bold, unapologetic piece reinforcing the reality versus fantasy we live daily in our tech-saturated lives.
Hood’s success lies in the accessible manner of his work. Perhaps it is the iconic images from a much-loved classic turned dark and ghoulish that excites our human nature and inability to look the other way. The Westbank Gallery was abuzz with activity, people, chatter and more than just the odd sale. Whatever it is- it is undoubtedly a winning formula that has seen Elmo Hood’s star continue to rise in the world of young London artists.