Luke Ryan O’Connor
This April, Artereal Gallery presents All That Glitters, a curated selection of artworks from the Artereal archives, all of which engage with or employ the use of gold as a material or concept. Featuring artworks by Liam Benson, Patrizia Biondi, Anne Blair-Hickman, Hyun-Hee Lee, Owen Leong, Anne MacDonald, Luke Ryan O’Connor, Ebony Russell and Elwira Skowronska.
Gold has been prized for its beauty and rarity for millennia and has historically been used in art to signify wealth, power, and divinity. From ancient times to the present day, gold has been an enduring symbol of value and prestige, making it a popular material for artists throughout history.
In ancient art, gold was often used to adorn religious objects, such as statues and altarpieces, as a way of representing the divine. For example, the ancient Egyptians used gold extensively in their art to depict gods and pharaohs, while the Byzantine Empire used gold to decorate their religious icons and mosaics. In Renaissance art, gold was used to represent the glory of God and the nobility of the subjects portrayed, as seen in the elaborate gold leaf backgrounds of many paintings.
In contemporary art, gold continues to be a popular material for artists exploring themes of wealth, status and power – as seen in the work of artist Liam Benson – who explores narratives that are both personal and political. The idea of gold, and the transformative power of alchemy, is another common theme in contemporary art. Many contemporary artists explore the symbolism of gold and the idea of transformation through their work, often drawing on the myth and lore of alchemy as a metaphor for personal growth and spiritual evolution.
From Ebony Russell‘s ceramic pieces which incorporate actual gold, to Owen Leong‘s bower-bird-like assemblages which include both faux and precious metals, to paintings such as Patrizia Biondi’s which on one level explore the themes of transformation and transmutation, contemporary artists are finding new and innovative ways to engage with the idea of alchemy and the transformative power of gold.
Similar to the Japanese technique Kintsugi (“golden repair”), a process where broken pottery and ceramics are rebuilt with a seam of golden glaze. Luke Ryan O’Connor’s works speak to the notions of transforming conventional ideals of perfection, queer adversity and resilience, to celebrating scars and breaks.
Gold can also represent something more profound, such as in the work of Hyun-Hee Lee, where gold is used as part of a quest for personal and spiritual enlightenment. For artists like Elwira Skowronska and Anne Blair-Hickman, their heavy and predominant use of gold has allowed them to explore moments in our recent lived history, namely the Covid pandemic, in ways that are variously poetic, humorous and beautiful.
For artists such as Anne MacDonald the use of gold is a mechanism via which to explore excess and environmental concerns by drawing attention to the destructive impact of unsustainable consumption.
Gold has always been a significant material in art history and continues to hold symbolic meaning in contemporary art. Its enduring appeal lies in its association with wealth, power, and divinity, as well as its ability to reflect light and capture attention. Whether used by these artists to glorify or critique, gold remains a powerful symbol and thing of beauty…
– Rhianna Melhem, Curator