Admittedly, I've never seen the film "On the Beach," which the press release at Lennon Weinberg Gallery so emphatically stated as the premise for Robin Lowe's recent body of work and identically titled show. With the solo exhibit now closed, I felt I should revisit this story's tale. This sounded like just the type of film I'd enjoy, too-- last people on earth; a nuclear holocaust and apocalyptic meltdown; a man and woman on their own, running for safety-- will they also find love?; all the while, the waves keep lapping at the Australian coastline, with a dark foreshadowing of things to come.
I find it quite interesting to use the sea as a metaphor of salvation, or humanity's last hope; interesting because so many stories have ended just the opposite-- Moby Dick, Titanic, Natalie Wood, Dennis Wilson, Jeremy Blake, J.F.K., Jr., Jeff Buckley, Spaulding Grey-- all meeting watery graves. The list goes on. The ocean can be interpreted as place of birth as well as a final resting place. As one who frequents the Atlantic's horizon at least several times a year, I always get that sense of longing as I look out upon the waters and wonder just what is out there, but at the same time, I fear it.
But putting old films and tragic lives lost too soon aside for a moment, I do know a phallus when I see one, as well as overtly sexualized imagery made in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Take Big Sexy above. The submarine in the above photo conjures up an image of a killer whale coming up for air, but its title is a dead giveaway. Insert joke of the seamen trapped inside, and you catch the artist's drift.
There's also something delightfully decadent about the image at right. Here is a man in obvious midlife crisis mode, red sport convertible in tow, unzipping his pants, seemingly readying himself for a casual encounter, while man's best friend sits at ready hoping to join in on the fun. On multiple looks, that dog looks far too happy for just a mere Sunday afternoon drive.
This exhibit made me do double-takes. Was I really seeing Venus emerging from her oyster shell, or showing the full monty from a dinghy? The oars seem almost to mirror the siren's angelic wings, and the pose is iconographic. To me, it's a direct homage to Botticelli's Birth of Venus, but appearing more lackluster in facial expression than ever. Her downwards disaffected gaze is seemingly without a care, as the seafoam laps upon the hull and the clock ticks down to its final moments.
Lowe made a great show out of a very unusual narrative-- a rarely seen 1950s film. I certainly think I'll be getting the DVD of this film as soon as possible so I can understand more of his references, but this was one of the best shows I've seen so far in 2008, especially since it gave me lasting memories.
See more images at the gallery's site.