Sanderson are pleased to present the exhibition Lamp Black, featuring the work of contemporary artist Stephen Ellis.
“Lamp Black refers to the pigment Stephen Ellis used to produce the works in this exhibition, its name is also used as a metaphor to illuminate contradictions in our relationship with climate change. Lamp Black is a carbon black traditionally produced by collecting soot from oil lamps. Ellis enjoys the contradiction in its name: we think of a lamp as producing light, not something black – or can it?
Crude oil and coal – the dark icons of fossil fuels – still power our late capitalist carbon-intensive economies, despite the fact they are killing us. Yet for most of us, climate change is still a somewhat mediated experience. The artist notes that climate change is framed by mainstream media as “always unfolding”. We might think of their key climate change ‘visuals’ or stock footage: the glossy black surface
of an oil spill, or the smog of urban environments and their oil-driven transport infrastructure. The blacks of coal, either glistening or light-absorbing in their powdery depths. And as temperatures rise, we might think of the black smoke of forest fires, along with their haunting, charred remains. And yet “always unfolding” is never here – and never over.
Ellis is interested in “climate contradictions”, as he calls them - the ironies and oxymorons of living with the early effects of climate change, while still maintaining our carbon-intensive lifestyles. This precarious situation requires a unique form of unsustainable denial, further compounded by the widespread practice of ‘greenwashing’. Into this smoky haze of complexity and contradiction, appearance and deception, Ellis thrusts New Zealand art history. Ellis recasts the aesthetic traditions and works of Romanticism and the Sublime in the here and now, quoting and remixing Romantic landscape heritage – both wild, remote environments and their dramatic representations – in a critical take on life in the Anthropocene. His hybrid images are convincingly rendered yet uncertain, unified yet unstable, and driven by a surreal sensibility.”
Excerpt from exhibition essay by Emil McAvoy. The full essay can be accessed here.