Jack Milroy: A Slap In The Face to Greenberg’s Denunciation of Kitsch

Jack Milroy’s exhibition’A Natural World’ is currently on at Art First, Eastcastle street, London. The passing viewer is enticed into the space by the perspex shelving unit of deconstructed sardine tins in the window and once you enter the gallery itself there are further delights. The intimate ground floor space at Art First provides the perfect setting for Milroy’s varied oeuvre. As soon as you get through the door you are confronted by a very small perspex box entrapping a ‘stage-set’ like composition, constructed out of cut out postcards: a kimono wearing figure from a Japanese silk painting and the hand of God reaching to Adam from the Sistine chapel interact in the space. The show displays both his acetone layered works and his book-series.

I was immediately struck by two underlying themes in Milroy’s artistic approach: his irreverence towards media releasing decorative elements from their formal constraints and his interventionist and anarchic character. It is interesting to note that everything he makes is already the work of another artist to begin with – Milroy accesses the field of Pop yet goes further, he doesn’t put low culture on a pedestal but extracts the aesthetic from his visual sources, placing the emphasis instead on the decorative.

The two works which stood out the most for me are A Natural World – a piece which was created out of cut out children’s book characters standing on an island of crumpled book pages and Ophelia V, which takes on Millais’ pre-raphaelite Ophelia and puts her in the polluted canals of London today, complete with weeds, Sainsbury plastic bags and costa coffee cups instead of Millais’ freshly fallen flowers. 

As a whole Milroy’s work wallows in Kitsch but blasphemous to Greenberg’s denunciation of Kitsch in Milroy’s case Kitsch is perhaps the central guiding force of the aesthetic. He does stay true to his materials and follows the patterns which his books or sardine cans provide him with. His cut out sardine cans, which he created after eating many Waitrose sardines demonstrate his contrarian nature – he lets the illustrated fishes escape from the can, just as their filleted equivalent would be released from the can as it was opened – ironically the illustrated fishes are freed but the sardines themselves have been consumed by the artist.

Milroy’s work heavily relies on Duchamp’s Objet Trouve and he elevates his found objects and images to the status of art in Art First’s white cube context. His many collages may just be an excuse to include images or a deliberate iconoclastic approach. What is certain is that Milroy has come out of his conceptual origins releasing the aesthetic with his expression of the idea and created cut out worlds of images bringing the pages literally to life, taking patterns that are pre-determined and setting them free.

Milroy’s show is definitely worth a visit to Art First and while you’re there why not have a look at the Mimei Thompson show downstairs. As a collage enthusiast myself I found in Milroy’s work perfect satisfaction and I can guarantee that there is something for everyone at the show. Don’t miss out (Open at Art First, 21 Eastcastle street, London, W1W 8DD until the 1st of May)

Words: Mala Yamey Photo: Detail Ophelia V, 2014–5 Courtesy Art First All rights Reserved


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