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TOTEMS by Aaron Rose: An Exhibition Review


TOTEMS, by Aaron Rose, invites viewers to experience bold, lively pieces of artwork and to contemplate the meaning behind them. He also presents his ideas regarding the desires and needs of humanity. Rose, an artist, curator, film director and writer based in Los Angeles, explores spirituality in a modern society and the methods that humans use to define themselves. There is a mixture of art styles: abstract paintings, kinetic sculptures and suitcases/retro boomboxes with distinct vintage and somewhat hippy styles. Rose believes that "we look to symbols everywhere to help us make sense of our existence" and also to define who we are. For this reason, different symbols are frequently used in his work.

With a gaudy and compelling colour palette, the signature pieces entitled Totem are prominent. Several variations of this piece are displayed in the exhibition and they are equally large, square and created with acrylic paint, spray paint and sign painter's enamel on canvas. Each piece sees a similar colour palette and design, but with different symbols, patterns and shapes. The paintings have a resemblance to imagery commonly featured on totem poles and similarly aim to contextualise aspects of human life. Interestingly, there is a contrast between the depiction of eyes in these pieces and others of the collection. Most of Rose's work features some form of human imagery; the eyes therefore are important. On occasion, eyes are a point of emphasis, enlarged and exaggerated whereas in other pieces the eyes of the characters are covered, querying the ideas of identity and human definition.


Another aspect of life that Rose focuses on is sexuality. Although commonly used to indicate a barber shop, the classic rotating barber's pole is sometimes used to signify brothels in certain countries. Rose recreates this symbol by digitally printing a previous work onto the barber’s pole. These rotating pieces, Totem on Barber's Pole, are lit and positioned throughout the gallery.


In addition, there is a prevalent police theme. A video installation features side by side sequences of what appears to be authentic aerial views of police chasing people. A relatively peaceful soundtrack is juxtaposed against the adrenaline infused video which almost makes the actions comical. However, the sequences continue to where the victims are caught by the police and either held at gunpoint or surrounded and engulfed by them. The soundtrack then shifts to a more sympathetic tone for the victims. Furthermore, police shooting targets have been transformed via silkscreen print and hung up as if to dry on wires. These images, Muse and Director, are painted in the same simple, bold manner and are effective due to their quantity.

All in all, TOTEMS is a colourful exhibition full of unique surprises. The exhibition will be at Circle Culture Gallery until 31st October and admission is free.

By Emily D'Silva

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