Exhibitions2018White Van Man

White Van Man

20 Sep 18

Paul Stolper Gallery

This exhibition engaged with familiar tropes in Turk’s oeuvre, fusing elements of cultural identity with ways of seeing - or not seeing; surprising the viewer with what they think they know and what they presume they have seen. The show played with icons of modern art history and contemporary culture in a powerful series of images that presage current and future world events.

The show was a reflection of the tumultuous socio-political situation in which it was created: contextualised by Brexit, the rise of the far-right, and geopolitical unravelling. As Britain prepared to crash out of the EU, the nightmarish crashed white transit van was a fitting metaphor of the times.

Presenting initially as ‘abstracts’ rendered in a restrained palette of secondary colours, the works in the portfolio reveal themselves as a series of repeated photographic images of crashed white transit vans – a recurring theme for Turk since 2010.

The ‘White Van Man’ has become part of contemporary folklore: a white male in a battered Ford Transit who delivers goods and services in a post high street Britain where global logistics have become intertwined with the paranoid fear of being taken advantage of by bureaucrats and by migrating foreigners.

Originally manufactured on the first factory production line by Ford in the USA, the Transit van, with its signature style logo badge, is a mass-produced branded product adopted by the UK as its own. Offering a host of cultural references for the viewer, a link can be made with Warhol’s Factory, the studio scene that pumped out authentic reproductions of celebrity and consumer culture. Warhol’s art, created using yesterdays’ news and popular culture, has now become the industry standard for ‘safe’ modern art investments.

This portfolio of images also reminds us of Grand Theft Auto; the violent but pioneering computer game of British design. GTA pays homage to an American Dream gone very wrong - cars once seen as a symbol of freedom and democracy digitally transformed into the destructive rebel’s weapon of choice. 

The phenomenon of consumer culture gone mad is a theme playfully referenced in Turk’s oeuvre, from the signature painted bronze binbag sculptures and cardboard boxes to these repeated images of a Transit van, deconstructed and crushed.

From crash to burn out, the demise of a once proud working class is encapsulated in the violent death of an anachronistic world played out in this White Van Man series - a plaintive statement and memorial for a transforming Britain no longer confident of its own identity, delivered within the aesthetic of American Pop. It perhaps asks the question; is the loss of our green and pleasant land an accidental act of self-harm?