John Russell brings animated madness and praying mantises to Grey Area in Brighton

By Mark Sheerin | 23 June 2011
Photo of a silhouetted woman infront of a projected film with an image of a praying mantis
A visitor looks on as the world ends: Preying Mantiss, installation view
© Photo: Daniel Yáñez González-Irún
Exhibition: John Russell – Preying Mantiss, Grey Area, Brighton, until July 3 2011

In a group show given over to the occult, The Dark Monarch at Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne last year, it was John Russell’s epic hallucination which stood out as being most touched, if not by magic, then at least madness.

The seven and a half metre backlit print drew comparisons with a prog rock album sleeve. Now some of its apocalyptic splendour, along with the work’s unwholesome preoccupation with insects, can be found in a solo exhibition at Grey Area.

Central to the new show is a 23-minute animated film called Vermillion Vortex. It might be described as a family saga, but one which begins with a breakdown and builds to a vision of the relatives’ home surrounded by crucifixions.

The characters do have some lucky breaks. One lands a modelling job; another has a hit record. But there is alarming urgency in the hasty sketches used to tell the stories. The news is scrawled, not heralded, in bubblewritten captions.

Captions are perhaps the highlight of the film. The tone of crude celebration is at good as capturing the horror of a funeral as at enumerating the financial rewards of success. Repetition is used to good effect and this is frequently laugh-out-loud funny.

Photo of a flyposter with images of a woman in a bathtowel and several figures being crucified
John Russell, Preying Mantiss (installation view)
© Photo: Daniel Yáñez González-Irún
Vermillion Vortex was commissioned for the Art Review website in November last year. While it had undoubted power online, its projection on a wall of a basement space gives the viewer more chance to revel in these torrid lives and be swept up in the nihilistic rush of a shuddering noise track over the looped ending.

John Russell has also now been commissioned to produce a set of glossy comics for the story, which began life as a piece of text, and these are for sale at Grey Area at a giveaway price.

The preying mantiss (sic) of the show’s title has a presence throughout the gallery, as both a fly-posted image and a graffitied reference to insects found at the foot of the cross and supposedly soaked in Christ’s blood. It’s a horrendous image, but one feels the meek won’t inherit the earth here. In the world of John Russell, it may be anything that crawls.
  • Admission free. Open 1pm-5pm Thursday to Sunday.
Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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