In an attempt to regain nutritional balance, the artist is scarfing a salad at the FLAG Art Foundation
, where his first U.S. retrospective is on view through December 16th. Another retrospective, at the Newport Street Gallery
in London, closed in August, and so one might expect to find the artist in a reflective mood. A few days earlier, a film crew had forced him to tour his old neighborhoods. “They were trying to find things that meant something to me,” he explains. They failed. “I live in the future,” he says. “I don’t live in the past. Occasionally there’s odd things. Here’s one odd thing: If you try to figure out how to get somewhere, you get lost. But if you just start walking, muscle memory kicks in and you suddenly find yourself there. And you look down at your arm, and it’s suddenly this jaundiced yellow color, and there’s a mixed-race child holding onto your hand, and you go, ‘I guess some years have passed. Things have happened.’”
As an artist, Bickerton is far less concerned with what has happened than with what is happening. Indeed, he is temperamentally incapable of nostalgia, in part because that sentiment entails seeing things as having a single meaning, fixed in time. He wants to discuss a work at the FLAG, the iconic Good Painting, of 1998, in which logos and symbols—yin-yangs, peace signs, the presidential seal and that of the United Nations—decorate the outer face of a stylized packing case. “The whole point is that it doesn’t mean one thing, nothing does; everything can mean a million things,” Bickerton says. “I’ve always thought hypocrisy is a great philosophy. It’s always worked for me. It’s very flexible.”
The yogi-surfer-artist values flexibility. His oeuvre ranges from highly conceptual contraptions to florid, hyper-sensual pictures that freely mix painting, photography, sculpture, even performance. Perhaps because Bickerton eschewed chronology in curating it, the show at the FLAG makes clear that, despite his zigging and zagging, certain themes do abide in his work. Consider, for instance, a piece from this year, Water Vector 1, which resembles that early logo piece. Here, the logos appear as mere abstract outlines etched onto glass, beneath which he has arranged bits of plastic and other worn beach detritus into a wave pattern.