By Nick Pelling and Helen Murphy

Georgie Wheeler is an intriguing artist. Her work is painterly and meticulous but also almost rude and in your face. Her playfully disturbing visions were on display at the Bare Bone Gallery this week. The exhibition was entitled What Was She Thinking?! We went along to try to find out. 

The wonderful Bare Bone Gallery has an up and down to it. Going down the stairs takes you into what might be called Georgie’s pop world, in which images from the last forty years are mischievously slammed together. It’s an odd sort of aesthetic experience, sort of like a history lesson if your teacher was Timothy Leary or Bungalow Bill. After the descending neon-striped stairs you are confronted with what might be called collages. But, actually, the works are a complex melding of styles and we are not sure if the word ‘collage’ is quite adequate. Some might say that the French term bricolage is more apt. But what does it mean? As far as we can understand, that means a revved-up multi-media approach. Maybe we should just stick with Georgie’s own term, mix-tapes

To be clear, these works are organised around different years. The imagery is often pop related – a retro record player was playing appropriate sounds – and the occasional pop lyric was integrated into the works. At times, it felt a bit like an attempt to create a visual museum of British late twentieth-century memory.  Sometimes the lyrics and visual image collide in interesting ways. The year 1979 comes with an image of Margaret Thatcher and the line “I will survive.”  Prince Charles, in 1981, woos a young Diana with a pained expression whilst mouthing the Bowie-Mercury line “under pressure.” But at other times, the marriage of meaning is just odd – did Sylvester Stallone pass his Dutchie from the left-hand side? We just don’t know.

It might be tempting to try to see Georgie’s stuff as a sort of fun stroll down memory lane. But that is not quite right. She prefers the term “uncomfortable nostalgia” which is an interesting twist, given that nostalgia is normally defined as a comforting return to home. And yet Georgie is too young to remember much about a lot of it. In some ways, she has just decided to meticulously plunder images from our national soap opera; using the rubbish bin of recent history as a lucky dip. Or is it an unlucky dip? Hard to be sure. The work is both funny and sort of bleakly tacky all at the same time. 

Upstairs, her more recent work suggests a considerable new departure. She is certainly a hard working artist. She worked for thirteen years as an Art Teacher (and a Head of Art) and now she is committed to her own practice. She clearly has a lot of painterly skill and the equally necessary self-discipline.  The new work cleverly uses her own face but it can’t really be understood as self-portrait. Instead, we have faces that are teetering on the brink of grotesque. They are really quite disconcerting. It’s all a bit of a head spinner, to be honest. A bit like a night at the funfair with too much cider and candy floss. Nice and queasy does it. And sleazy too, at times. But maybe that depends on how your mind works. 

We felt that the work upstairs was pulling in some very interesting directions. The gloopy and absurdist cartoon-
ery elements could be both repelling and amusing. In terms of influences, pop artists like Joseph Cornell and Robert Rauschenberg are evident. Maybe there is an element of Robert Crumb creeping in and even the Betty Boop cartoons of Max Fleischer. But Georgie didn’t think that these were conscious influences. In fact, she prefers the old cartoons of Giles. But then that is the thing with the whole poptastic world around us. We just sort of soak stuff up and whisk it up in our memory blitzer. Just occasionally someone like Georgie Wheeler comes along and flings it all back in our faces. It might be a strange sensation, but we can’t think of an artist we would rather have making the cultural custard pies.  

Her exhibition is on at Bare Bone until 22 May but also check out her instagram page @g_wizz_wheeler

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