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Pictured above: SJ Fuerst, The David, 2019; Daphne After Apollo, 2016; Great Date Ken, 2012; Maul, 2013. Courtesy of the artist.

Forest Fresh

Solo exhibition by SJ Fuerst at Lily Agius Gallery, Malta

Explore American realist painter SJ Fuerst’s playful and fascinating mix of pop culture and classical art in her new solo exhibition opening on 22 March 2019 at Lily Agius Gallery, Malta.

Entitled Forest Fresh, the exhibition is comprised of eleven variously scaled oil paintings, along with sketches executed in the same medium on floppy disks. Playing off the exhibition’s title, which takes its name from one of the works in the show, the artist will create a walk through installation made up of sixteen undecorated, artificial Christmas trees, along with an audio soundtrack of birdsong and pine scented air-fresheners.

Says SJ Fuerst: ‘As soon as visitors enter the gallery I want them to feel like they’ve left reality and stepped into one of my paintings, a surreal but real world made out of artificial and mass-produced versions of nature. I see it a bit like fashion designers who build elaborate sets for their runway shows. The show is about the clothes, but they create a fantasy and immersive atmosphere for the audience to better experience and understand their collection.’

Harnessing the visual language of fashion photography, Fuerst’s paintings conjoin elements of contemporary culture with classical art forms. To these, a surreal, playful twist is added, creating a world where all is not as it seems — an ethereal jellyfish is, on closer inspection, a woman, animals are not real but inflatable toys, landscapes are printed backdrops.

In other works, mass-produced goods and fashion models are transformed into humorous, faux classical tableaus. For example, in Daphne After Apollo (2016), the artist has taken inspiration from the stories of Greek mythology, depicting a model encased in a car air-freshener in the shape of a tree in reference to the naiad Daphne’s transformation into a tree to escape the pursuits of the god Apollo. In another work, Circe from Homer’s Odyssey (2017), a central figure sits waiting for Odysseus surrounded by inflatable pigs and a tiger. Meanwhile, The David (2019), Fuerst’s most recent work, explores religion and sexism through the use of a swimsuit and cardboard cut-outs, referencing both Michelangelo’s David and Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.

Fuerst also takes on contemporary culture directly with a fashionable portrayal of the DreamWorks Animation logo in Dream Work (2018) and Star Wars in Maul (2013) in which the Sith Lord Darth Maul poses ready to fight in heels and a lightsaber.

Says Lily Agius: ‘In this astonishing body of work, SJ Fuerst exhibits not only a masterful facility for composition and painterly style, but also compelling narratives on a range of issues, including sexism, consumerism and environmentalism, which she observes with wit and verve through the veil of classical and surrealist art.’

Forest Fresh is open from 22 March — 19 April 2019 at Lily Agius Gallery, Malta. For more information, visit: www.lilyagiusgallery.com/exhibition/forest-fresh/

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Freelance journalist covering fine art, photography, film and tech. UK based

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