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French street artist plays with 'history of petrol and art' in London exhibit

AFP , Sunday 31 Jul 2016
zevs
French artist ‘Zevs’ poses for a photograph alongside a series of pictures that are only visible under ultra-violet (UV) light, during an event to promote his exhibition entitled "The Big Oil Splash", in London on July 28, 2016. (Photo: AFP)
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French street artist Zevs is bringing his signature style indoors with an exhibition playing on the dominance of oil, which opens Friday in London.

The 38-year-old former graffiti artist has taken his trademark "liquidation" technique -- where colours drip from the logos of big corporations -- from walls to canvas.

But "The Big Oil Splash", done in bold acrylic colours, is not an artist's moan at the power of giant oil corporations and the environmental damage caused by oil spills, but a playful look at its power.

"It's an oil exploration. It would be too easy to perceive this as an attack on oil. Things are never black and white, and these paintings are not black and white," Zevs told AFP.

The series of paintings are variations on British artist David Hockney's 1967 pop art painting "A Bigger Splash", which depicts the splash in a swimming pool beside a modern house, on a sunny California day.

They feature the logos of oil companies such as Exxon and Esso dripping down the house wall, flowing into the swimming pool and diluting in the water.

"This is a paradox: this vision of paradise, but one created by man. The only natural thing is how the oil spills into the pool. We can find beauty in its dilution," said Zevs.

"Like the original splash, it disturbs the tranquillity of the pool and the straight lines of the painting."

The series is a natural extension of his liquidated logo street art. Since 2005, Zevs has sprung upon corporation logos in public spaces and dripped their colours down the wall below them.

He was arrested in Hong Kong in 2009 for daubing a Chanel logo on an Armani store.

He defended himself saying it was intended to reflect the "battle of the brands".

The idea of stepping into Hockney's iconic painting references the trespassing on private property involved in street art.

The exhibition also features a hot tub filled with Naftalan crude oil from Azerbaijan, where people bathe in it for its claimed healing properties.

Next to it is the logo of Total, seemingly dripping down the wall into the bath.

"The drips show the loss of power from the logo, but the painting is frozen so we could also see them as legs holding it up," said Zevs, reflecting on how giant corporations, like mountains, change their state over time.

"I like the idea that art can have a certain force and take it from power itself."

"The Big Oil Splash", which is free to visit, runs until September 1 at the Lazarides Gallery, owned by Steve Lazarides, the former agent for British graffiti artist Banksy.

Zevs' exhibition explores how the oil industry has spilled over into banking, finance, shipping, foreign policy, tourism, arts and leisure since the time of Standard Oil co-founder John D. Rockefeller.

The second half of the exhibition features blank canvases in bold colours -- or so it seems until they are exposed to ultraviolet light.

The light from a solarium sunbed -- itself covered with luminous plastic water pistols and packets of white powder in another take on the paradise lifestyle -- reveals the screen prints beneath.

The images show Rockefeller, a yacht, Jackson Pollock-style works and cops from the 1980s US television crime drama "Miami Vice" -- a huge hit around the time of the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill.

"Maybe they're looking for each other. It's like an investigation," the Berlin-based artist said.

"It's a way to play with the history of petrol and of art."

But the UV light will eventually make the images disappear altogether.

"The more we look at it, the more it disappears, reflecting the idea of preservation and conservation," said Zevs.

"I don't know how long this work will evolve."

Zevs' next project is an entirely different five-month exhibition entitled "Noir Eclair", at the Chateau de Vincennes outside Paris, which opens in September.

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