Details from The End of Days by Zavier Ellis
Details from The End of Days by Zavier Ellis

Whilst in recent years, the work of Zavier Ellis has been making waves within museum presentations across Europe and the United States, his first solo show in London for a decade proves a dark and testing exhibition, playing upon religious semiotics and the daily subconscious absorption of signs in the street.

Hidden beneath the rambunctious bustle of Tramshed, Ellis’s takeover of the Cock ‘n’ Bull gallery provides a quiet purgatory to contemplate the nature of spirituality, insanity and the occult, and their place in our highly urbanised society.

From the moment of entering the space, it’s hard to miss the darkly alluring, colossal canvas of The End of Days, that stares unabashedly from the furthest wall. Indeed, its presence is so overwhelming and intense that it seems to lord over the room with the sacrosanct conviction of a deity.

Its emotional potency is in keeping with the graffitied collages that span the space alongside it. They sit like billboards of political leaders past, that have been faded and stripped away at by time to reveal the backdrop of the exposed, raw brickwork of the city. The pieces are littered with ancient iconography, and Ellis uses his work as a vessel to tap into the eternal arguments that art has always been used to question – where is the line between reality and insanity? How do we bridge the gap between the known and the unknown? And, with the more modern clash of religion and culture, how does our primitive need for mysticism fit in with our Western ideologies?

As with Pollock or Rauschenberg, the physical act of painting is as important a part of viewing these pieces as the finished result as a whole, adding depth to the dialogue. Between the swoops and smears of paint you can almost tangibly feel Ellis at work. Textures are scratched, brushed, stripped, dripped and poured upon the canvases, each layer like a repeated mantra, creating a cacophony of intricate detail.

Moving away from these frenetic and densely-filled pictures, Ellis’s soft, delicate, pencil portraits not only demonstrate his artistic diversity, but also seem to suggest a different narrative. Drawn on lined paper, as if torn from a child’s journal, their minimalism whispers of an innocence that makes you momentarily forget the dark subject matter of Mad Pope and Mad Nazi Priest, in the same way that giving a cute pet name to a snake can undermine the idea of danger it holds. They are a reminder of how the way something is delivered can alter the perception of the thing itself, and thus call into question the relationship between semiotics and reality.

For the final element of the exhibition, Ellis has teamed up with restaurant owner, Mark Hix, to devise a Hix Lix dinner, designed to be an apocalyptic Last Supper, served in the underground gallery, surrounded by the installation. With a menu featuring the likes of ‘Holy F*****’ chicken hearts’ and ‘Wild Boar with Heaven and Earth’, and watched over by an ethereal Damien Hirst cow preserved in formaldehyde, the scene is perfectly set to be a multi-sensory feast to placate the Gods.

Zavier Ellis, Type One Zealotry is at the Cock ‘n’ Bull Gallery, 32 Rivington Street, EC2A 3LX until 25 July.

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