Between the 17th and the 20th of August Daniel Sparkes (A.K.A Müdwig) presented his latest body of work ‘Woodland Reducer’ at Dinner Party Gallery in East London. Formerly the studio space of Sparkes, Russell Maurice (A.K.A Gasius) and Graham Dews (A.K.A Paris), Dinner Party Gallery is a new project space founded by Lucas Dillon, a young London based artist who is currently enrolled in postgraduate study at the Royal Academy Schools.
Stroud born Sparkes cut his teeth as Müdwig in the Bristol street art scene during the 00’s, gaining recognition for his subverted advertising billboards (his ‘Müdverts’) and his graffiti work as part of the Wet Shame Krew. His early gallery work saw him continue this idea of editing existing imagery by painting directly onto found photographs, often from such mundane sources as cookery books, pet grooming magazines and old copies of National Geographic. His surreal post-apocalyptic Dr Seuss additions saw him welcomed into the folds of the Comic Abstraction movement, alongside the aforementioned Maurice, as well as contemporaries such as Antwan Horfee and Ken Sortais (A.K.A Cony).
Before long Sparkes was exhibiting internationally (London, Paris, New York, Copenhagen, Stroud), as well as seeing his work featured within the hallowed halls of some major UK institutions, such as the Royal West of England Academy (for the 2009 exhibition ‘Crimes of Passion) and Somerset House (for the 2015 ‘Mapping the City’ exhibition. Sparkes also found commercial success through collaborations with brands such as Nike and Givenchy.
Having dropped the pseudonym Sparkes turned his attention to oil painting, an evolution he credits almost entirely to the influence of Philip Guston. By at first adopting Guston’s visual style Sparkes was able to introduce his world of smurfs, cigarettes, Victorian lampshades, pills and butcher’s counter fare to the canvas. ‘Woodland Reducer’ is the culmination of four years experimentation with the medium, and introduces Sparkes as an accomplished oil painter, at once resembling both 16th-century Dutch still-life and the fairytale backgrounds seen in Disney animations such as Pinocchio or Snow White.
The subject matter explored in this latest body of work could be explained by Sparkes’ move to live in the English countryside, as the series of oil on canvas paintings follow a magic mushroom fuelled traveller exploring the local woodland/patch of trees behind the neighbouring Skoda factory. Modern trademarks become primitive hieroglyphs and forest dwellers become two-dimensional facades as the line between object and character is blurred, amalgamated to form dilapidated totems.
The fragmented Grimms fairy tale of ‘Woodland Reducer’ also includes one of Sparkes’ signature detailed graphite drawings, looking like the blueprint for lamp created by the traveller from items collected and assembled in the forest whilst still under the influence.
Viewing Sparkes painterly oils creates within the viewer a strange dichotomy, the feeling of not wanting to inspect too closely (for fear of what one might find) while simultaneously being unable to look away. An unsettling yet comforting world, one in which I’m sure both Seuss and Guston would feel right at home.