The beautiful and the bizarre collide in Glitter Bunnies, a blockbuster joint exhibition from collage stars Maria Rivans and Bonnie and Clyde, and subversive ceramicist Amy Douglas.
From the dreamscape glamour of Rivans' vintage Hollywood pin-ups to Bonnie and Clyde's ice cream-hued scenes of the urban imaginary, the show at For Arts Sake in London is a joyful celebration of pop culture with a twist.
Rivans and Bonnie and Clyde (aka the artist Steph Burnley) share a Brighton studio and a creative aesthetic that melds the painstaking, handcrafted art of collage with mixed media and the latest digital printing techniques. Both create work that challenges surface perfection and entices us to delve deeper into fantastical, immersive worlds.
Completing the show is Amy Douglas, who re-configures – or "collages together" – broken ceramic figures to create extraordinary objects with radical new narratives.
The whimsical title is "a little much-needed joy in weighted social and political times," explains Burnley.
Adds Rivans: "It's apt as we all use some sort of glitter finishes in our work.” And in a light-hearted touch that will delight fans of kitsch, she has concealed a vintage bunny in five of her original, one-off collages.
For all three artists, the decorative veneer of the works – vintage ephemera gathered by Maria Rivans, Bonnie and Clyde’s travel photography and the intricately reworked and gilded Staffordshire figurines of Amy Douglas – masks a deeper commentary on contemporary culture.
"There are lots of hidden political nods, and comments on my life and how I see the world we live in today," says Rivans, who cites a 1970s childhood spent soaking up TV and classic movies as key influences on her Pop Art aesthetic. "I'm highly influenced by sci-fi, philosophy and Hitchcock. I talk about life, love, the universe and continually question what it is to be a human living in this strange physical 3D reality."
Says Burnley: "I like to add real-life elements that aren't traditionally beautiful but I do find some kind of poetic beauty in them. I often use signage, symbols and words to inject some humour or political edge."
Douglas, who started creating anarchic pieces from broken Staffordshire figurines "for my own amusement", explains: "I just had the urge to do what one should not. Playing with scale and the wrong restoration brings a different dimension to the piece. Seamlessly done, it can trick the viewer to seem as if it were always there. It's about making people look twice."
Both Rivans and Bonnie and Clyde are launching new pieces at the exhibition. Rivans’ James Jean is a giclée and screenprint with diamond dust, silver ink and spot varnish.
Depicting Hollywood stars James Dean and Jean Simmons, each of the first 12 prints of the edition of 60 features a different coloured central crystal - signifying the colours of each of the 12 birthstones, from garnet in January to blue topaz in December.
The pair sport Rivans' signature headdresses like exotic crowns, saturated with the technicolour tones of 1950s cinema. In Rivans' vision, they represent a bold and beautiful exploration of relationships, with lovers, friends, fellow humans, the world, and also with ourselves.
Beneath the surface 'Hollywood couple' aesthetic, the print prods at gendered assumptions. "It reminds us that we are all a delicate balance of masculinity and femininity," adds Rivans. So Mae West appears, nestled among the foliage wearing her gender-defying man suit, while the bridge of children that connects the headpieces "draws the pair together and represents the tug-of-war that defines our sense of self".
Bonnie and Clyde’s giclée, silkscreen and glazes work Lesson 1, Happiness (edition of 60) is also launching at the show.
"It's a composite piece with photographs taken in Santa Monica, LA, Liverpool and Vancouver predominantly. It was made against the political backdrop of the UK's Brexit crisis and is a piece about home, love, peace, security and belonging with a large dose of escapism," says Burnley.
Other highlights from the artist, who uses paint, mark-making, texture and print to create her multi-layered collaged works, include the new “good vibe” limited edition print Welcome Home (silkscreen and giclée) and the original mixed media collage This Place, which fuses elemental landscape imagery from Lanzarote to LA, with a female figure at its centre gazing out – a “meditative musing on our ephemeral connections with the world around us”.
Burnley was inspired to learn screenprinting on paper after seeing an exhibition of Basquiat works. She later began to pair the process with collage and, fused with her passion for travel and photography, her unique mixed media aesthetic was born. Employing collage, photography, paint and print, with blocks of saturated colour, her work creates a visual narrative of the contemporary metropolis and the individual within it.
"I grew up watching the old black and white films so the Hollywood stars have always been in my life," she adds. "They’re like old friends and have inspired my life in many ways. Especially the strong female characters that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford played, they encouraged me to be independent and adventurous."
Rivans' art practice begins with scavenging and collecting vintage ephemera, from antique books and retro magazines. Then comes the intense process of intricately cutting and assembling, until the artwork begins to take shape. Her works are in constant dialogue with cultures of the past, reinventing films and narratives, reclaiming iconic femininity and interrogating 1950s utopian ideals in the context of modern consumerism.
Amy Douglas trained in the Decorative Arts at City and Guilds of London Art School and has an MA in printmaking from Camberwell College of Art. She specialises in gilding, restoring and conserving ceramics and other objets d'art.
As an artist, she engages in the art of 'salmagundi' – from the Middle French word meaning 'hotchpotch'. She restores and reworks broken Staffordshire flatback figures (typically made without decoration on the back, and placed against a wall or chimney breast in Victorian houses) creating her own surreal narrative.
Glitter Bunnies at For Arts Sake in Ealing, London, runs until 26 May 2019.