Gorka Mohamed mainly paints portraits. Portraits in series, like those we capture when you have to have it done for obligations of national identification, that is to say all similar, with the same neutral viewpoint, a subdued or gloomy background like an apathetic flat tint, an inert face and stupid expression that is nevertheless different from that of our peers, as the goal of the operation is to record our specificities, our singularities, even our incongruities.
Obviously, Gorka Mohamed complicates things slightly, the portraits that he lines up do not have “proper” names; de facto it is a theory of strange homunculus, more unnameable than identifiable, sorts of unappetising species that, ersatz of humanity, are close to an equivoque itching. How do you name a thing with two sorts of bulging eyes, one of them with a clot of small veins whereas the other reminds us of Buñuel… with its orbit hanging, the whole thing on a sort of cactus with a small feather duster acting as an improbable hand, combined with indescribable plant-like pipes that connect everything together with difficulty and, to conclude, a switch with a matchstick-like appearance? Well it is called Franciscan Mecanism because, is it is a priori through his titles that the artist gives us the key to the riddles of the individuals who are represented. And wait until you see the rest! Bananas Monarchist looks like a 30-Watt lightbulb with a pale light perched on a square of a synthetic kind of material that one tucks into one’s sofa to not have a hurting behind, with, in fact, a non-comestible banana attempting to connect the two. The portrait of a Secondary Actor is true to its role as it is officiating in front of operetta décor, wearing a fake uniform with dubious epaulettes invaded by traces of aperitifs of olives and withered lettuce, the thing has an ageing face with a lounging slug, whereas on its torso hangs a sort of Inca flute, that leads us to believe that it may be a local Latino avatar playing Emperor. Portrait of Louis XIV with an Imaginery Prosthesic Cubist Leg finally relieves us of any doubt: Gorka Mohamed’s favourite prey is the powerful, the show-offs of this world, those that stick their oar in and lose themselves at the same time in the over-representation of their being, that have their “portrait drawn” with the distinction that comes with the enrichment of trappings, wigs, medals and stiff lace. Although the cubism that it refers to in this case looks more like the leg of an amputated cricket that is visibly having difficulty putting its shoe on to kick an anachronistic tennis ball, the effect is a success: showing more to better be seen!
When better considering it, some clues add to the result: they float between the quotation of classical and venerable portraits that one puts in our rather baroque History of art shelves, dressed in delirious comic-book-like attire, like those of the mad Californians that willingly delved into vaguely prohibited substances of 1970s’ Peace and Love. Between Velazquez and Crumb, in sort. To go further into the Gordian knot of its origins, we can agree to recognise that we are very close to a “bad painting” aesthetic, this destructive flourishing that decorated with voyeuristic superlatives the punk throbbing of the known beginnings of post-modernism. Phew! Gorka Mohamed claims all this when he states that his main intention remains to “show the anguish that people feel, who are more and more apathetic when faced with an environment saturated by media and images that eliminate all critical thought” and that he tries to fight by “deconstructing the tangles of the current cultural world using the technique of bamboozling largely contaminated data, but whose toxicity may act as a therapy”. In other words, the more you mix the trivial, the more you put your finger on the worse parts that we have to be rid of. He is not wrong in this respect, this has been the ABC of any anti-conformist hope, to stay in the field of art, opposing “good” and “bad”. The paradox remains that we often mistake the “bad” for the “ugly”, that is to say that it is “poor” when the result is “unpleasant” and it can be dragged through the mud in the most various and spoilt forms. Without much surprise, Gorka Mohamed admits to his appetence for the last dripping canvases by De Chirico and Magritte’s Vache period – although the question could be whether the latter, in doing so, wasn’t simply confirming a love of the same nature for a painting that he appeared to be mistreating – when it isn’t some nasty canvases by an andropaused Dali with his Montre molle… Because in the end, when you look closely, it is only “ugly” if it is well done, mastered, technically breath-taking, comparing or challenging the codes and criteria of what seems to determine the authoritarian beauty of “good” and “bad”, while it navigates in other appreciations where morality often appears.
If you look closer at Gorka Mohamed’s canvases, they are a precise answer to this type of challenge. It’s truly well worked, filled with glazing and patterns, very meticulous, covered in thin coats of colour, using the diaphanous palette worthy of the most academic workshops. The squashed face of The Hackney Wick Drafter, who seems to have been beaten up and remade with elements as different as a sort of bent nail, a plump lizard stuck against a fence, a thingamajig that oscillates between an iron and a hand-air pump as a hat, an eviscerated eye and a dishevelled beard worthy of the most beautiful informal abstract art, is a concentrate of stylistic techniques and quotations, bringing to mind Phillip Guston’s creative saga for which he has a singular affect, borrowed and packed into a wicker bag, as the title vaguely seems to mention. It is an art of imbrication, of apparent mixture, of binding and of wrapping, but where it contrasts sharply. As if, to dare to be irreverent and to wring the necks of the powerful, one would have to execute them well first!!
Ramon Tio Bellido, 2019