Selected works by Olivia Plender

Olivia Plender
The Masterpiece Part 4 - A Weekend In The Country


24 drawings on paper

21 x 29.7cm

Olivia Plender uses the format of the comic book as an alternative mode of distribution for art, capitalising on its inexpensive accessibility as a means to challenge cultural ideals. The Masterpiece series is an expansive critique of originality; the drawings are conceived as a by-product of artistic process and not actual artworks in themselves. Appropriating her title from Emile Zola’s novel about Cezanne, Plender’s The Masterpiece 4 explores the concept of Romanticism and authors a complex fiction examining the concept of artist-as-genius. Her protagonist is an archetypical painter – tortured by his creativity, exploited by a cruel world – who is invited from 1960s London to a weekend in the country. The plot unfolds as a Byronic epic cum Hammer House horror, delving her champion into a world of psychedelia and occult as a metaphoric parody of artistic strife. Drawing reference from 19th century technical manuals and b-movie film stills, Plender’s graphic narratives are designed with the stylised glamour of pulp fiction covers. Her vignette images intertwine as surreal pastiche, adding a psychological complexity to her illustrated story.


By andrew johann salgado

I was thinking of the apocryphal anecdote that Clement Greenberg told about the first time he met Jackson Pollock, in which he claimed that a drunk Pollock was wearing just a t-shirt and jeans, and did something appalling, like growled at him. Lee Krasner, on the other hand, claims that Pollock was wearing a suit, was sober, and had a polite conversation with Greenberg.
Olivia Plender, in conversation, April 3, 2005

Let no one parody a poet unless he loves him.
Sir Theodore Martin

There aren't many cultural forms that artist Olivia Plender hasn't unearthed for her current project; a gorgeously drawn, intensely detailed, and cross-referential 'comic-book' called The Masterpiece. The list of sources Plender draws from includes comic culture, 1950's pulp novellas, movie adverts, film stills, screenplay dialogue, literary quotes, art-legends, cultural anecdotes, historical personalities, as well as fictional mythologies, all of which are integrated together to create a new form of fiction. "I am to some extent rifling through the rubbish bin of high culture" she states in conversation; "[I am using] the comic as a narrative form [that offers] a rich pictorial source reflecting contemporary mythologies"2. Working in the comic-book format has enabled Plender to challenge notions of storytelling and art-production through content, style, and format. Influenced by the works and ideas of Swedish artist Övyind Fahlström, Plender's comic-sensibilities share fundamental aspects of film semiology, challenge the comic's reception in the art realm, and rely on appropriation, reference, and parody to generate new meanings. Plender's awareness of postmodern techniques and intertextual resources thereby allowing The Masterpiece to successfully critique mythologies created that transcend in past artists into geniuses and their resulting work into 'masterpieces'. As a result, her work occupies binaries-- straightforward yet complex; candid yet humorous; didactic and ironic. Plender's use of these elements is informed, never aloof, and operates as a means to challenge and critique the constituents of the contemporary art society, dismantling it as a system form within.

The Comic - Tackling Conventions of Art?

Although each of The Masterpiece's four episodes are drawn by hand, Plender almost exclusively 're-constructs' the imagery used from 19th century technical manuals and visual materials, pop and pulp culture artifacts, historical adverts, commercial stock imagery, and other commercial comics themselves. The result is a generally widespread, ahistorical form, imbued with a deeper social context; the appearance of which borrows from a variety of 'retro' or 'trash' subject matter. Structured as a conventional 'comic-book' with black and white drawings inside of narrative 'cells' or 'image frames', Plender's publication, of which she is now working on a fourth episode, charts the adventures of "Nick", a short-tempered and romanticized artist struggling through an imaginary, 1960s avant-garde London. Plender's characters roam this imagined milieu in hopes of creating exactly the perennially-sough after artistic 'masterpiece'. "One of the things I am trying to do is explore the origins of the genius myth," Plender states, "I am fascinated with the 19th century, because the genius cliché as we understand it these days very much comes out of the romantic and symbolist movements through the high cultural forms in fiction and fine art during this time".