(b. 1959, Barbados)
If Ashley Bickerton were to be described in one word, it would be Diaspora. Having moved house across four continents while growing up, and migrating permanently from America to his current residence in Kuta, Bali, Bickerton’s peregrine lifestyle has been a central influence upon his compositions. As a fresh graduate from the California Institute of the Arts in 1982, Bickerton’s career began in New York where he was a member of the famous Neo-Geo Group during the 1980s.
While in America, his compositions featured industrial materials, found objects and screen printed images such as corporate logos titled as ‘Anthropospheres’, ‘Commercial Pieces’ or even ‘Self Portraits’. Following his emigration from the US to Bali in 1993, Bickerton has remained in touch with the western art scene through the internet and his work. On his decision to isolate himself from the local art scene of his adoptive home in Bali, he states “I stay away from Ubud. There are too many artists there. I set up my studio so that when you close the doors, it could be a studio anywhere in the world. It could be in Williamsburg or Silverlake. I can’t stand the idea of making art as wispy exotic and escapist kinds of things.”
His work consistently demonstrates a critical awareness of his surroundings, especially about social issues. In his studio of elaborate sets, Bickerton carefully places his garishly dressed models carefully into these settings and photographs them. He then transforms selected shots into inkjet paintings on canvas, which he further manipulates by applying pigments and adding found objects by hand. Recent pieces, e.g. Bed (2009) and Red Scooter (2009) examine and challenge the West’s misguided perceptions toward the mysterious East, often depicting Western tourists trawling the debauched sex shops of South-East Asia. They feature a signature blue figure, titled ‘The 20th Century Man’ who, in Bickerton’s words, “appears as a refugee from the literature and art of the 20th century, the lone figure of the Caucasian existential anti-hero, now unwittingly lost and adrift in a drastically different and global 21st century.” He features both as a relaxed family man, and as a drug-fuelled sex tourist at night. The women that feature alongside these compositions carry a Bickerton monogram, resembling branded goods. Bickerton adds “These girls are hybrids, complete with Bickerton logos all over… I like it because it’s so wrong.” His compositions spill over onto frames modelled in clay, made to resemble driftwood, bearing yet more Bickerton logos. The logo coated frames incorporate Indonesian handicraft and make direct reference to the commodification of the art object; a continuation of Bickerton’s primary discourse of the late 1980s.
Ashley’s work is synonymous with colour, vibrancy and strong undertones of anti-consumerism. This can be identified through his use and portrayal of natural and organic items like coconuts or waste-trodden landscapes. Staying true to his neo-geo roots, Ashley uses his locale as his inspiration – tropical and sunny Bali with the exoticism and mystique that he articulates through his hands. Swaying trees, flowers and serpents dotted his works, seemingly as if he was peering out his window in Bali while he goes about formulating new sardonic ways to slander society and even himself.
Aside from works on canvas, Bickerton has also worked at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute to produce works on paper. His works there included Green Reflecting Heads Duo No.5 – of green men peering out of a water body, probably his unique way of saying that our relentless pursuit for wealth and prosperity has bred abnormalities in the sea.
Grotesque, crude but surprisingly eye-catching, Ashley will remain relevant and enterprising as the world ages and continuously degrades ironically from humanity’s progression. He is currently participating in Gajah Gallery’s newest art production platform in Yogyakarta, the Yogya Art Lab which aims to bring about a new dimension to his 30-year long oeuvre.