When artist Mike Ballard was commissioned to exhibit at the Arts Gallery he was understandably daunted by the long list of prestigious predecessors, despite his own acclaimed career. Imagine then the added pressure of putting on the show to end all shows, the final ever exhibition at the gallery before its closure.
After a sufficient amount of brainstorming and ‘a trip to the British Museum’, Ballard began toying with the idea of life after death and the themes of immortality and eternity.
“I was thinking about the gallery and its ending, and about this Egyptian thing of preparing everything to go to the other world- mummification.” The Arts Gallery, due to be demolished this year in order to make way for Crossrail, has played host to numerous big names including Gavin Turk and Peter Doig, not forgetting all the rising stars that have passed through its halls as students.
Ballad drawing inspiration from this aiming to “metaphorically mummify the inside of the gallery, [using] hieroglyphics and symbols of the worlds and sort of charms.” He adds, reverently: “So much effort into something that would be buried and never seen.”
While it is sad indeed to see one of arts best loved institutions go, Ballard proves that the end is only the beginning with this exhibition. The show has been dubbed a ‘supersonic’ journey into his own art history culminating in the creation of installation cum exhibition The All of Everything – an explosion of patterns and motifs.
Described as ‘fittingly epic’ the installation is effectively a giant monochrome mural covering the art space floor to ceiling.
“As it is the last show at the Arts Gallery, I wanted to go big – unify everything by acknowledging all of its surfaces’ Ballard says.
The work is both psychedelic and surreal, but Ballard asserts that his art remains firmly rooted in the 1980s of his youth: in hip-hop culture, graffiti art and the comic book strips which have always inspired his work.
“I kind of got the title from a track by an old jazz musician, pretty cosmic and way out there, hip hop is the music I grew up with and the whole sand print culture; making new things from existing things, it’s always been there in the collages and things” he comments.
“I was thinking, I wanna do the ceiling not like the Sistine Chapel but like an updated version for my generation, a mix from popular culture.” The exhibition displays his eclectic style: “I’m like a bit of a magpie, mixing it up.”
Ballard immortalises art he finds inspirational, by bringing it up to date using a pop aesthetic. Explaining for example: “The relation between graffiti art and cave paintings” is remarkable. “It’s the immediacy of it – coming from an outsider in the art world; I really love all of that sort of thing.”
Although the show draws influence from many different sources, Ballard sees them as being interlinked and unified under both his signature style and the themes of eternity and immortality which run through the very threads of the show.
The idea of eternity is echoed in a central circle painted on the floor, inside which the repetitive slogan ‘the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end’, runs into a loop.
The centre piece has to be a large almost 3D Sphinx with the face of a skull, which seems to jut out of the wall. The black and white of the show keeps the focus on his symbols, preventing them from becoming lost in a sea of colour and chaos, while alluding to the themes of death and dying.
Ballard believes it was important for the Gallery to go out with a bang and as he says that to give the gallery a good send off, using imagery from his own personal art history and music that has inspired his work, including flamboyant time travellers Sun Ra and RAMM: ELL: ZEE, claiming: “I have selected guardians for the gallery as it goes to the other side of time.”