A Painter Uses Pikachu to Comment on Art Fair Art

Sep 17, 2015 9:14PM

Works by Michael Pybus at Expo Chicago. Courtesy Evelyn Yard and the artist

At this year’s Expo Chicago, London gallery Evelyn Yard presents new paintings by mixed media artist Michael Pybus—which, in the artist’s words, “scream ‘LOOK AT ME! LIKE ME!’” Painted with fluorescent and aluminum particle pigments, which glow under blacklight, they reflect his response to the art fair milieu in which they are being shown, as well as his ongoing exploration of the self and the image in the digital age.

Pika (Hurt), 2015
Evelyn Yard
Pika Hurt (Silver Screen), 2015
Evelyn Yard

Pybus recognizes his emergent state in the art world, and given the opportunity to fill an international fair booth, he rose to the occasion. “I’ve never done a solo presentation of my work at an art fair before,” Pybus recently told Artsy. “The invitation got me thinking about the nature of fairs, the desire for every artist and gallery to try and stand out from the huge crowd. I was thinking that neon paintings were probably one of the tackiest things I could do for a fair—it’s so uncouth, it’s desperate, but it’s more than that too.” 

In recent years, Pybus’s works have featured flattened images of anime and cartoon characters (including the Pokémon figure, Pikachu) or brand logos, namely, IKEA. “I love IKEA, so I ran with it; same with Pikachu,” he says of his subject matter, which he adopted a few years ago. “As the work progressed, a narrative unfolded and expanded. I’m drawn to them, their global presence, their viral nature.” 

Dinosaur Painting (orange), 2015
Evelyn Yard
Ariel RIOT, 2015
Evelyn Yard

The new works on view in Chicago this week, called the “Blacklight Paintings,” bring his playful takes on universal touchstones to a new level. By daylight, they appear to be standard paintings. But under blacklight they take on the cast of a glowing screen, a not-so-subtle reference to the medium through which so many images are currently filtered. “The paintings have a luminosity which is dormant in daylight,” Pybus explained. “They have a hidden property to transform into something else. I’m drawn to these kinds of dualities, this ability to exist in different states—it’s how I approach painting and art in a wider sense.”

Ever since the spread of television, and especially since the technological revolution immersed much of the world’s population in screens of all sorts, we have been living between two different realities: actual and virtual. Such a dual state, and the ramifications of the flood of images and information it has unleashed upon us, is among the driving forces behind all of Pybus’s work, including this latest series. He describes it as fostering a “constant ‘on’ state. It nurtures that fear in us all, a panic that we are missing out, we are being left behind. That general state of anxiety and consumption is where I get my energy and ideas from.”

Karen Kedmey

Visit Evelyn Yard at Expo Chicago 2015, Sept. 17–20, 2015.

Follow Evelyn Yard on Artsy.