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Holding a Mirror Up to Society with the Art of E.L.K.

February 24, 2021 Attraction No Comments Email Email

Don’t Shoot the Messenger is a riveting and intentionally confrontational exhibition from Sydney-based street artist and Archibald Prize finalist, Luke Cornish (aka ELK) who originally hails from Canberra.

Opening at aMBUSH Gallery Kambri on 12 March, Don’t Shoot the Messenger features 54 extraordinary hand cut stencil works created over the course of 2020, after Cornish’s plans for overseas travel were stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The timing coincided with Cornish deciding to amicably part ways with the two commercial galleries representing him, in order to branch out on his own and rediscover the joy of making art on his own terms.

As he explains, “I’m now completely free to make the art I want to, without having to answer to anybody … or make sure the artwork doesn’t offend people!” Creating the pieces for this exhibition at aMBUSH Gallery allowed Cornish to discard the usual financial motivations of commercial galleries, which in turn allowed him to inject authenticity back into his work. He derived great pleasure from the process, knowing the aMBUSH ethos allows artists complete freedom of expression in their art.

Challenging viewers with his no-holds-barred choice of subject matters and art materials in Don’t Shoot the Messenger was one of Cornish’s aimsThere’s an upside-down figure of Christ on a cross, paper currency from dozens of different countries adorned with confronting images, and all manner of weapons – from riot shields to hunting knives, meat cleavers, swords and cutthroat razors.

“The overall theme of the exhibition is injustice and protest, and people rising up against injustice globally,” he says. There are works inspired from trips to countries where citizens have protested en masse, like Hong Kong and Venezuela, and marches held for the Black Lives Matter movement around the world.

Issues closer to home that Cornish explores include the Religious Discrimination Bill proposed by the Morrison government, which would have served to actively permit intolerance, and the greed and influence of the mining industry.

By holding a mirror up to society through his art, Cornish wants to inspire people to think critically – about how governments amass power, spin issues to suit their agendas, and the pervasive problem of extremism, whether it’s religious, political or financial.

“This body of work is inspired by the events of the last few years, so to any negative feedback that proclaims it’s too violent, I say it’s simply a reflection of society – a reflection of what’s happening in the world, so don’t blame me. Don’t tell me my artwork is too shocking – that’s not the problem! Don’t shoot the messenger!”

Cornish has travelled extensively, and many of his photo-realistic stencil works are created from photographs he’s taken in countries including Syria, China, the USA, Afghanistan and the Philippines, to name a few.

Although several of the artworks in Don’t Shoot the Messenger reflect Cornish’s observations and interpretations of global politics, there are more light-hearted pieces, such as the iconic image of Jack Nicholson’s face from ‘The Shining’. Appropriately stencilled on an axe and dotted with coronavirus spores, it’s a relatable tongue-in-cheek nod to the sense of derangement that forced isolation induced.

The works in Don’t Shoot the Messenger are certain to leave the audience astonished, not only because of their thought-provoking nature, but also due to Cornish’s incredible skill. His technique, honed over many years, is meticulous and intricate, and proved particularly challenging as he worked with materials including slim metal swords and knives. Depending on the piece, his practice can involve up to 1,000 stencils and hundreds of different colours of layered aerosol paint, with Cornish persevering until the work takes on a photographic realism.

Curated and presented by aMBUSH Gallery, the opening night for Don’t Shoot the Messenger is a must-attend event for those interested in dialogue about the rise of authoritarianism, the fall of liberties, the power of the people, and art’s role in inciting change.

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