Talbot Rice Gallery, South Bridge, Edinburgh 0131 650 2210 Until May 10 Tue-Sat 10am – 5pm
When Enrico David’s first major exhibition, Ultra Paste, opened at the ICA in the autumn of last year, critics were unanimous in their admiration. “This is the kind of exhibition that made the ICA famous 50 years ago,” said The Guardian. “His perverse wit has something about it of early David Hockney and something of Miss Jean Brodie.” Six months on, the exhibition gets its only major non-London showing at Talbot Rice, allowing Scottish viewers to assess the impact of one of the UK’s most original young artists to have emerged in the last decade.
Born in Ancona on Italy’s east coast in 1966, Enrico David first came to the wider notice of the art world in 1999 when he created a series of large-scale embroi- dered works. Talbot Rice regulars may remember one of these from the 2006 summer festival programme, when David’s embroidery was used as the cover image for the Girlpower and Boyhood show. He has also recently mounted solo exhibitions at Transmission, Glasgow, and been exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery, the Venice Biennale and Tate Britain.
David’s work includes a strong sculptural element. One of his more widely viewed works was the recent Tate Britain sculpture, the much noted Chicken Man Gong, which married public sculpture with ritualistic symbol and was designed to be struck (or attacked) as a gong by Tate Britain staff.
His lively, questioning work, while based firmly in the art of drawing, is theatrical, purposely fictional, edgily unstable, playful, crude and provocative. “It reacts to a world of hysterical correctness and etiquette that demands that we comply to social normality,” says the Talbot Rice’s promotional material.
David, in an interview with the Tate, said “drawing is the starting point for most of my work,” a body of work that interacts and draws on existing cultural codes, “from the rendering of a photographic image to a more intuitive, spontaneous approach”. His borrowing, stylistically and technically, from traditional craft is an attempt to implement an organisational structure on “the often chaotic nature of my response to reality”. His artistic language is all about his “need for discontinuity, disruption and misuse,” which he places at the heart of his practice.
So, what of Ultra Paste? The title work, a representation of his childhood bedroom reimagined through the veil of a 1935 photo montage by Dora Maar, pictures a teenage David perpetrating “a shameful act” on a mannequin representing “trustworthiness”, the viewer peering in from the roped-off doorway.
Elsewhere, wildly elaborate titles hold the key to the works’ “meaning”. The selfevident S***** Tantrum gouaches, including the evocatively titled Mudhippy, turns mother and two daughters into mature cheddar. It’s part carnival, part hysteric, part rage, part insanity – and all thrown together in an original but historically rooted style. In the words of one critic, he is “the anti-hero of art in our time.”