Bong paintings and black cats playing poker: new show lets disruptive artist duo off the leash
Off Leash, a duo exhibition by Travis Fish and Ricardo Passaporte features works that are playful, disruptive and push against the boundaries of contemporary art.
It's incredible to think how far we've come. There was a time when the notion of smoking cannabis without fear of arrest was, well, a pipe dream. Nowadays, there are 47 countries worldwide that allow its use for medical purposes. And more and more nations are legalising it for recreational use, including Canada, Malta, Mexico, South Africa and Thailand.
So where an art series titled 'Bong Paintings' might once have created outrage and protest, nowadays it's just parred from the course. This means we can all be a bit more adult about things and actually focus on the art itself.
This collection of works by American painter Travis Fish forms part a duo show with Portuguese artist Ricardo Passaporte, titled Off Leash, which is taking place at OMNI in London W1. And this dynamic and playful exhibition is getting a lot of attention, thanks partly to the international success both creatives have recently enjoyed.
Ricardo has gained rapid recognition for his uninhibited, acidic and compelling works, which often explore branding, advertising, and consumerism, themes inspired by his time studying fashion design before his career pivoting to art. His series of paintings inspired by the retail chain Lidl saw his reputation soar, leading to several successful exhibitions in LA, Paris, Madrid and Naples.
Meanwhile, Travis Fish has gained national and international acclaim for his caricatures of the hip-hop group Migos, and vibrant pop renditions of clothing, particularly sweaters.
Works on show
In the new exhibition, Ricardo contributes a selection of monochromatic, large-scale paintings, all created in the last 12 months working from source imagery, including photographs taken by the artist and images from the internet.
One of the paintings is a homage to the work of Swiss artist Theophile-Alexandre Steinlen. Each of them examines the symbolic nature of imagery as a whole and how it can act as a metaphor for the human experience.
Animals are a reoccurring theme in his work, often anthropomorphised with humorous composition and depicted in bright colours. Ricardo has himself referred to these pieces as "naive figurative".
Travis also presents an entirely new body of work in the form of 'Bong Paintings': a collection of paintings created in London in 2023 at PLOP, a residency recently established in east London by artist Oli Epp. Inspired by having no means of smoking on his travels, he presents everyday objects such as tennis rackets, fishbowls and T-shirts transformed into bongs by adding a simple mouthpiece and pipe, presented in an illustrative style.
"In these new paintings, I'm exploring the relationship between consumer culture and the commodification of leisure activities," Travis explains. "The playful, almost absurd nature of these bongs highlights the absurdity of a culture that values material possessions over experiences." OMNI will exhibit eight pieces from the series, accompanied by 20 studies on paper.
So why these two, in particular? While taking very different approaches, both artists adopt processes that rebel against control and the boundaries of traditional painting.
Ricardo's work embodies idiosyncrasy in his unusual use of airbrushing, deployed at a great distance from the canvas. An evolution of his background as a graffiti artist, it lends his work a hazy appearance that affords his subjects a sense of dispassionate removal.
"Art allows you to escape excessive commercialism and hyper-productivity that exhausts any creative spirit," he told emergent magazine recently. "Or at least, live better and have more fun."
Travis, meanwhile, is known for his fast-paced painting process, utilising fluid brushstrokes with watered-down acrylic and often embracing mistakes and imperfections as a way of preserving the spontaneity of the painting. The absence of clear lines and irregular proportions evoke a naive and childlike nature, often juxtaposing the message of the piece.
In short, an approach that prizes freedom of artistic technique unifies these bodies of work. And both artists demonstrate a disruptive and fluid quality which complements the spirited palette, objects and figures represented through their art.
Both artists, too, comment on the society around them throughout their portfolios. Ricardo examines the symbolic nature of imagery as a whole and how it can act as a metaphor for the human experience. Similarly, in his newer pieces, Travis utilises a tongue-in-cheek approach to question consumerism, using absurdity to highlight the materialistic nature of our society.
Encompassing two floors of OMNI's central London gallery space, Off Leash encapsulates the bizarre and bold worlds of these two contemporary voices, showcasing their off-kilter subject matter and unique artistic processes.
Off Leash: Ricardo Passaporte x Travis Fish, is at OMNI, 56-57 Eastcastle Street London W1W 8EG, unti 1 April.