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Antony Micallef

By Alanna Lynott

His work has been described as “Caravaggio meets Manga” and “Bacon in Disneyland”: Antony Micallef’s surprising style is just what the UK art scene has been searching for.

Lauded as “one of the most collectable artists living and working in the UK today”, Micallef has exhibited alongside Tracy Emin, Banksy, Damien Hirst and Marc Quinn to name a few. His career took off in 2000, when he was named runner-up in the National Portrait Gallery’s BP/Amaco Portrait of the Year competition.

His trip to Tokyo in 1999, where he built up a “fascination with cultural icons and motifs and their relation to society and the individual”, earmarked him as an exciting young talent. His work from this time is both colourful and disturbing, fed by his view of Japanese culture as “completely twisted”. He says of it: “You have the real sugar side, but there’s always a dark side underneath. I’m trying to look at that in-between space in pop.”

It is that “in-between space” that Micallef explores so well, with his free lines and whimsical characters. Much of his work seems to celebrate our relationship with consumerism, while at the same time despising it.

“The trouble with pop imagery is that it doesn’t really go deeper than the surface” he states. “You have to drag it down and challenge it to make it interesting, marry contrasting emotions and motifs. The union of two opposites make an intriguing and strange chemistry.”

And that is a huge part of the appeal of Micallef; he is the thinking man’s artist of the moment. He is not only culturally aware, but his pieces are a deeply considered response to the people and places he has personally experienced.

Nowhere is this more evident than in his ‘Pictures from Palestine’ – four paintings based on his trip to Palestine, inspired by his time in Bethlehem during Santa’s Ghetto in 2007. A departure from his trademark “bubblegum pop” style (an empty term that conveys merely the uppermost veneer of Micallef’s work – “critical pop” is a better label if one is needed) and strongly political, the black and white paintings are as haunting as they are arresting and stark.

Never one to stagnate, Micallef has now made a foray into sculpture. From 1st November the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens will be exhibiting four four-metre high bronze nickel-plated statues as part of the GSK Contemporary season. The Idol Kids of Today: Burger Boy, Game Boy, Weapon Face and The Beginning of the End will go on show along with a major new work on canvas by the artist, Parasite – a shocking, yet beautifully delicate reaction to our world today.

Like Banksy, Micallef is represented by Soho art dealer Steve Lazarides and, also like his contemporary, Antony has already built up a cult celebrity following. His September 2007 solo show, Impure Idols, held in Hollywood, sold out in less than 2 hours, with buyers including Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Christina Aguilera and Damian Hirst. Other collectors include Robin Williams, Jude Law, Michael Stipe from REM and The Strokes musician Nick Velensi.

Combining “skilled brushwork with references to old masters and graphic design”, at the age of 33 Antony Micallef has already been described as a “cultural icon”. Banksy may have brought urban street art to our attention, but those in the know are looking to Antony Micallef to show the way.

Antony Micallef at GSK Contemporary at the Royal Academy from 1st November 2008 – 19 January 2009

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