Andrew Maughan‘s debut London solo exhibition 'In Plain Sight’ at Daniel Benjamin Gallery introduces the audience to his recurrent character The Great Assassin - a mysterious, menacing yet mournful, masked figure - as well as his latest sculptural series of recycled shop mannequins.
The Great Assassin is inspired in part by the enduring cultural influence of The Zodiac Killer, an as yet unidentified serial killer who roamed Northern California in the late 1960s, and who continues to elicit cultish fascination. Maughan’s murderer-for-fire however appears off-duty, at leisure while still at large, complementing his characteristic black balaclava with a turtleneck jumper and plaid jacket. He enjoys an ice cream, gets caught in a passing rain shower and relaxes in a deck chair on a desert island in scenes reminiscent of Raymond Brigg’s sunkissed Santa in Father Christmas Goes on Holiday. The influence of Philip Guston looms large, not least in the omnipresent cigarettes, but also in the assassin’s unavoidable associations with the prominent painter’s own continually contentious hooded figures. By depicting the Ku Klux Klan as seemingly civilised members of society, going about their daily chores and partaking in playful pastimes, Guston was able to expose and confront the insidious ubiquity of white supremacy in everyday American life. Maughan engages in a similar examination of white male culpability by utilising the assassin alias, after all The Zodiac Killer was always believed to be white, male and of middle-class background, an everyman figure.
The parallels between The Zodiac Killer’s infamous manipulation of the media, feeding news outlets false facts to increase his own perverse publicity, and that of recent polarising political figures are not lost on Maughan. In The Last Man in Europe the power of propaganda is directly addressed, the monumental painting dominated by a tabloid tableau, a juxtaposition of two historical Daily Mail front pages from forty-five years apart. One, taken from the day following Britain’s entry to the European Union in 1971, announces ‘Europe, Here We Come!’, the other, printed post-Brexit referendum in 2016, affirms ‘We’re Out!’. The Daily Mail backed both of those campaigns.
You’re joined in the gallery space by Maughan’s mannequins, acting as eerie fellow gallery visitors, some even posed as if admiring the paintings. Loosely intended as life-sized, scaled-up train set miniatures - those crudely painted faceless figurines, devoid of diversity - alongside the assassin paintings they instead act as possible John and Jane Does, their anonymity unsettling. These repurposed shop floor models, here coated in jesmonite before painting, are also influenced by the dispensable dummies that populated nuclear tests sites, and imbue the gallery with the air of an approaching apocalyptic event.