Ben Turnbull: American History X at Brixton East
American History X is the latest ongoing project by artist Ben Turnbull. It is planned to be shown in four separate volumes, each volume telling a unique story of its own. Volume 1 The Death of America uses comic collage and over-sized Pez dispenser figurines to tell the story of America’s gun culture and history of political assassinations.
Following on from his 2011 Supermen: An Exhibition of Heroes, showcasing 911 fire fighters, and his darkly satirical 2010’s A.C.M.E, Turnbull is back with an equally bold yet considerably more refined series. First things first, this is not typically “accessible” commercial art (Turnbull has chosen not to exhibit with a gallery) and if you don’t know your Abraham Lincoln from Bobby Kennedy or Martin Luther King assassinations, be prepared for an education in socio-political American culture. This is a well thought out, educated exhibition, with each work of art cleverly tied into a narrative that culminates in the highlight of the show: The Executioners Song (Part I). A close inspection of the works of art, which is wholly necessary to grasp ongoing themes, reveals snippets and figures from DC and Marvel comics juxtaposed with quotes and images of political leaders and assassins. This is art to be looked at.
An underlying theme in the exhibition considers how weapons are easily accessible in the States, which is expressed in the repetitive appearance of guns and gun sight throughout his works. Turnbull’s comic collages and giant Pez figurines are created as one-offs by the artist, with no assistance, which reflects his unconventional artistic training, bypassing the traditional art school route and instead learning his skills from craftsmen in a workshop environment.
There is a story in this exhibition that is not autobiographical or solely focused on shock tactics, it is relevant to the here and now, and it successfully portrays historic events that have shaped contemporary American culture as we know it. Turnbull’s politically and culturally charged works of art fill a void in the contemporary art scene, presenting an opportunity for art of historical relevance and storytelling with a purpose. Go and see this.
American History X: Volume 1 The Death of America is at Brixton East until 18th April 2014. For further information visit Ben Turnbull’s website here.