I first met Ashley Bickerton at the 1992 Sydney Biennale, curated by Tony Bond. It was an exhibition way ahead of its time. Titled ‘The Boundary Rider,’ it dealt with issues of borders as walls and borders as crossing points, both culturally and emotionally. Bickerton was a neo-geo artist, a movement launched internationally in 1986 by Dan Cameron and his Madrid show ‘Art and its Double.’ His stable mates included Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Sherrie Levine (really an appropriationist), Meyer Vaisman and Peter Halley. I photographed Bickerton for a project of my own in various poses in front of his Susie sculptures that looked a little like deconstructed life rafts for a sinking consumer society. Then he and I and Mark Quinn (who was exhibiting his notorious self-portrait frozen in eight pints of his own blood) went out for a night on the town.
Over the years I often wondered what Bickerton was up to. I heard rumours (correct) that he was living in Bali and spending most of his time painting (partly correct). Then last year it was announced that Damien Hirst had been buying his work throughout the intervening years. A huge solo show was planned for mid-2017. That exhibition is currently on at Hirst’s modestly named Newport Street Gallery (it is, in fact, a vast, award-winning building that fully deserves the moniker Museum). I saw the exhibition a few weeks ago and I wasn’t disappointed. Much of the work is industrial in appearance and covered in logos and decals. More recent work contains bas-relief psychedelic imagery and Barney Rubble Flintstone brickwork with accompanying black-and-white texts that act as a framing device. The title of one work, and the materials used to make it set the scene for many of the others. Called The Big-Screwed-up Cycle of Wood, Shit, and Human Tinkering (1990) it is formed from wood, nylon webbing, safety glass, rubber, anodized aluminum, cable, jute, fertiliser and magazines.
Bickerton is still making his Susies. There is a whole gallery full of them. The room-notes explained it well—the use of Susie dates back to ’82, where the artist emblazoned a painting with the five letters. S-U-S-I-E. “The word quickly became a shorthand for the artist’s signature, a branded logo. The choice of an informal, female first-name, which bares no relevance to the artist, subverted traditional patriarchal nomenclature; a particularly resonant act considering the lack of female artists in the so-called ‘neo-Geo’ group.”
Ashley Bickerton: Ornamental Hysteria runs until 20 August 2017 at Newport Street Gallery, London.