Across a cosmos of personal and cultural hauntings, Max Boyla's, Add More Fuel to Your Life, creates space for the viewer to consider the role of the artist, the malleability of symbols, and the dimensional limitations of perception. Through the reappropriation of images used to communicate romantic mythologies of masculinity, consumerism, and the art world, the artist excavates the meaning which sediments in the afterlife of such imagery. Over three interconnected bodies of work, Boyla calls upon these ghosts to confront his own subjectivity as an artist, and the toxicities that linger.
In his Poster Paintings, Boyla reappropriates the imagery of American advertising and cinema. References are recontextualised in a surreal landscape where the constructed nature of the source material itself becomes visible. The protagonist of these works is the blue velvet cowboy, a bastardised Marlboro Man. His costume is ill-fitting, his fingers clumsy. Constructed by layers of digital and physical manipulation, he is a composite image - a portrait of the artist spliced with television and film characters. What lies beneath this mask? We can see only the gaping void where his eyes should be.
What emerges across the exhibition is a camp sensibility, traditionally absent or at least subtextual to the classical Western, here amplified to the point of parody. The American cowboy - for many the apotheosis of machismo - clings to his violet steed against a glittering lilac sky. As Sontag writes in Notes on Camp, 'To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theatre.' This state of self-awareness however, is a lonely role. Unable to conquer the flimsy reality of the self (of masculinity, of the artist) the cowboy evades and seduces us with the trappings of his characterisation: the spew of smoke from a hot cigarette, a velvet glove discarded on the flesh-pink canvas. There is a yearning here. The desire to be unmasked, or at least for the mask to be touched, and its vacant truth known.
This exploration of vacancy and the vulnerability of the image to be imbued with meaning, is furthered in Boyla's Shell Series. Made from a mould of an original Shell plc sign, the works retain the oily residue of their parentage. Recognisable as the logo of one of the most damaging forces affecting the continuation of life as we know it, and also as a part of complex and resilient ecologies; of death and the potential for new life, its inclusion here is haunting. These conflicting associations refuse to quiet. Shelter, vessel, exoskeleton, mask, souvenir, logo - these relics are cracked and slick with the grime of use.
The circular rhythms of the Shell Series emerge on the surface of Boyla's Spillage Paintings, a memory of the relic calling to us from the abstract. Large canvases of satin and velvet bloom with ink and oil, recalling biological forms, contamination, and the limits of our spatial environment - the cosmos and the microscopic world. These patterns are cut and sewn into inversions and parallels which recall the slightly different registers of each eye before being processed into a coherent image by the brain. The works gesture to the elusive nature of the visual world, or indeed reality as knowable. Exuding and absorbing light, they bleed beyond the edges of themselves, their fullness escaping us.
In, Add More Fuel to Your Life, meaning shifts and breaks beneath its own weight. The mask slips, the edges remain uncharted. In a gesture of both existential melancholy and hope, Boyla invites us to reflect on the contradictory interplay of meaning and perception that constitutes this seemingly ready-made world.
— Kit Edwards, January 2023
Kit Edwards is a writer and curator. Instagram: @kitedwards_