Originally published on this is tomorrow, March 2014.
Mark Flood was a relatively unknown artist, showing almost exclusively in his hometown of Houston, Texas, until he developed a winning formula. Frustrated by routine rejections of his conceptual, provocative work by the art establishment, Flood resolved to bypass the need for its approval. On reading critic Dave Hickey’s essays defending ‘beauty’ in art as a source of pleasure and an agent for change, Flood set out for the first time to intentionally make work that simply looked good. In 2000, his ‘lace paintings’ were born, and collectors loved them.
Flood lays torn fragments of lace over his canvas and pushes rich colorful acrylic paint through the gaps in the material, later peeling back the lace to reveal an intricate pattern formed underneath. The result is a richly detailed, textured and surprisingly seductive surface. Small dots of paint, created through tiny holes in the lace stand proud from the canvas like little coloured gems. Curious imperfections endlessly engage the eyes. The intricate lace patterning frames a deep blue centre to the canvas that acts as a window of respite from the richly textured exterior. There is no doubt that Flood has succeeded in creating something beautiful.
But beautiful as these canvasses are, their beauty derives solely from the accident of the intricacy of the lace. They are beautiful but they are also dumb - their conceptual basis lying in Flood’s calculated quest for beauty. No doubt exactly as he envisioned, the works have been condemned by critics. In Frieze Magazine, Elwyn Palmerton knowingly responds ‘Fuck you back “Lace Paintings”. Love the Art Bureaucracy.’ In an art world that values conceptual rigour above all else, these canvasses are a provocative statement.
Alongside the lace paintings Flood exhibits a series of deadpan text paintings more in tune with the work he was making before this revelation. As part of a series that lifts corporate logos from websites in low resolution, Flood prints the familiar ‘You Tube’ symbol directly onto his canvas. Its deteriorated form creates a sense of creeping infestation and a crass anti-corporate statement. A surfboard sits in the corner of the gallery with the stencilled message ‘Capitalism Hurts Trees’, a deliberately nonsensical statement. More than just anti-corporate, these works feel anti-[contemporary]-art. They poke fun at conceptual art, the current fascination with the digital, and by extension the art world itself.
Towards the end of 2012, Dave Hickey announced his retirement claiming the art world had become ‘self-reverential and a hostage to rich collectors’. Today the art world still feels in crisis, distorted by the influx of money driving production and influencing decisions. Flood’s most interesting artworks have always been challenges to the way the art world functions. These recent works are subtle thought-provoking jibes, playing with the art world but also playing along with it. Flood however, is having the last laugh, with this solo show in prestigious Fitzroy Square.