Black Swan, 2020
Text: Mara Hoberman
Oli Epp’s Black Swan leporello, published by Semiose, is an object destined for iconophiles as well as those simply obsessed with images. In its imitation-leather, concertina binding, Oli Epp’s triptych of Black Swan paintings unfold majestically, just like the wings of this magnificent bird.
This beautiful object recalls the tradition of portable, winged altarpieces, in vogue during the Middle Ages, and is further proof (if any were needed) of Oli Epp’s dedication to the historicity of painting. In the booklet accompanying the publication, Maria Hoberman points out that: “if the artist’s practice, subject matter and aesthetic seem preoccupied with the virtual, his chosen medium is decidedly analog. Working with oils and acrylics on canvas, Epp updates the notional window described in Leon Battista Alberti’s seminal fifteenth century treatise, De Pictura (On Painting), for the twenty-first century. Relating the picture plane to a screen as opposed to a window, Epp evokes the digital landscape in traditional painterly terms.”
Mara Hoberman also brings up the connection between the Black Swan series and Renaissance paintings by artists such as Perugino and Masaccio, among others, and their use of “a combination of geometry, realism and symbolism to convincingly represent religious subjects as tangible and concrete, yet also sublime and ethereal.” The three canvasses of the Black Swan series are realistic, disturbing and studded with abstract and symbolic elements such as an egg, a pearl, broken glass and ladybirds, each in turn accompanying the swan on stage.
Published as a limited edition of 300 numbered copies, signed by the artist, this medium-format leporello (9 ½ x 11 inches) is intended for the collector, to be put on display, admired and revered.
Born in 1994, Oli Epp lives and works in London. His paintings are informed by his everyday experiences and observations. They are autobiographical; sometimes confessional, sometimes irreverent and frequently handled with a humorous sense of pathos. Oli Epp focuses on situations that either involve him, or others that he has witnessed, in public and private moments that pass by as unremarkable, at a glance.
But documenting these unreported tragedies in paint is, for him, an act of discovery. He wants his imagery to feel familiar to as many people as possible; to draw out the ridiculous comedy of certain shared rituals and behaviours, by economizing on the essence of the situation and creating simplified humanoid characters, which lend a sort of parody of the real world in the way that cartoons do. These avatars have oversized heads and are hermetically sealed by an absence of facial features, which is an exaggerated reflection on human interaction in the post digital age - these figures appear idiotically isolated, but adorned with earpieces, branded items of clothing and objects that are important to consumption and communication.
Oli Epp uses the visual language of branding and interplay between graphic and painterly surfaces to create optical confusion, echoing the way that our real and digital lives are merged.