Popeye & The Carousel, Digital print, 2019

Popeye & The Carousel, Digital print, 2019

Review of Loren Beven at Siren’s & Guns by Kath Abiker
Taylor-Jones & Son
02.02.19 - 23.02.19

Sirens and Guns is an exhibition of new work by British artists Rachel Talibart, Leigh Mulley and Loren Beven.

I Am What I Am

Beneath the feel-good seaside vibe, glitter and high modern pop iconography contained in this series of images by Loren Beven lurks a more down beat set of undercurrents and bittersweet laments connected to the shifting sands of British nostalgia for its own eroding identity.

Kitsch and Social Realism are effortlessly spliced and the mise-en-scène in which Popeye and his various blowups and props reside references our local Dreamlands, challenged in a way that allows us to invest new value in Popeye as an agent for socio economic and sexual commentary.

Reminiscent of the work of Martin Parr, the anthropology of our seaside is exposed by Beven. Popeye is characterized as someone ‘other’- judged, but nevertheless, full of humanity. He is situated in a sort of mayhem, as all truly good cartoons and their characters or stereotypes are, and his mantra ‘I am what I am, and that’s all what I am’ seems more relevant than ever in the wake of the possibility of our social and cultural territories narrowing.

 Despite the social mania for Popeye in the era in which he first appeared in cartoon and on screen, more latterly his figure and many cartoons from the era have been re-read and undertones of racism, sexism and homophobia have been surfaced.

As she recently said of the image where Popeye is flying on his ponies escaped from the carousel, ‘but to where tho’ she says, ‘Neverland?’ She explains, 'Like Dorothy’s red shoes, the glittery hooves represent the hope of returning to something lost or something new. The image is inspired by the final scene in Vittoria de Sica’s Miracle in Milan, where the dispossessed are granted a wish by a magic dove and fly away on broomsticks ‘towards a land where good morning really means good morning.”

 Full of humour, these works seduce as they chronicle elements of our times now we should be less proud of and this is how Beven’s images always leave us: littered with the residue of her own intellectual edge, high and low cultural artefacts and interrogative approach. 

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Kath Abiker is Faculty Director of Learning and Teaching in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Canterbury Christ Church University. Her interest is in the significance of philosophy and postmodern theory in relation to contemporary art and design. As a practitioner she sits between disciplines: painting, exhibiting and writing about art.