Harper’s is delighted to present Cupboard Love, Scottish painter Alexander Guy’s debut solo show in New York. Recent paintings paired with earlier works, Cupboard Love is a wry celebration of the tackiness of modern life, exuberantly rendered in Guy’s brashly Post-Pop painterly approach. The exhibition opens on Thursday, December 9, 6–8pm, with a reception attended by the artist.
Born in 1962 in St Andrews, Scotland, Guy moved from Dundee to London in 1985 to study at the Royal College of Art. His success there led to a teaching position at the Glasgow School of Art, a short-listing for the prestigious John Moores Painting Prize, and an acquisition by Glasgow’s Museum of Art. A die-hard believer in the social role of the artist and the power of art to scrutinise and counter the social, spiritual, and sexual expectations that weigh upon us, he began an active engagement with his public, setting up a studio in a unit at a shopping centre in Glenrothes, Scotland, and welcoming passers-by to come in and talk about the work he was making there. Later, he took to painting the regulars at a watering hole in London’s East End, The Conqueror, then paid to bring his subjects to see the subsequent exhibition at the Castello di Rivara in Turin.
"Cupboard love" is a commonly used British idiom referring to the Freudian theory that in infancy, a child’s attachment to the mother is formed by the instinctual satisfaction felt from the satiation of hunger. Guy's paintings toy with this complex idea of satiation as love, with their cornucopia of canned and boxed food crammed into delirious, richly painted tableaux of trash consumption. In 1970s Scotland, a full cupboard or stuffed freezer offered the average working-class family a sense of comfort, reassurance, and reasonably affordable abundance. The notion of hoarding canned and frozen food may seem quaint now that everything can be had in an hour from a grocery delivery app, but Guy’s still lifes take us to a place and time when this practice was the norm, and they revel in that memory.
He endows his subject matter with a tragicomic, metaphysical presence. The vintage, empty refrigerator of Fridge (2nd Version) sits alongside that of FROZEN OUT, which is full to the brim with Magnum ice creams and McCann’s frozen chips. Absence is shown alongside abundance. TESCO PINK PRODUCTS is every child’s dream, featuring strawberry laces snaking over Bourbon Cream biscuits and improbably sized sprinkled, pink donuts—an image as sickly as it is sweet. In (Cos we are) LIVING IN A CEREAL WORLD, cereal boxes crowd together like a cardboard cut-out of a New York cityscape, and GLA -> JFK (In flight meal) features a full four-course flight meal and its accompanying miniature beverages.
Guy is to Wayne Thiebaud what Vivienne Westwood is to Tommy Hilfiger. His visual language owes much to Pop, but if the image of excess in America is the Big Mac, in Glasgow, where the artist now lives and works, it’s the deep-fried Mars bar. If American Pop Art signifiers were logos printed on the box, for British Pop, it’s how the burger looks under the lid after a bumpy ride home. Guy’s Post-Pop paintings channel that less optimistic, more suspicious, messier iteration of its transatlantic sister, adding a healthy dose of colour and life in tawdry portrayals of projected desire. There is nothing more delightful to a child than a cupboard full of sugary treats, ready to raid.
A cupboard full of love.
Written by Oli Epp
Alexander Guy (b. 1962, St Andrews, Scotland) received a BFA from Duncan of Jordanstone College, and an MFA from the Royal College of Art. Recent solo exhibitions of his work have been presented at Carl Kostyál, London (2020); and Horst Schuler, Düsseldorf (2013, 2011, 2008, and 2004). Throughout his career, Guy has participated in numerous group exhibitions including Stockholm Sessions, Carl Kostyál, Stockholm (2021); 12 Artists, Harper’s, New York (2020); East End Promise 1985/2000, London Newcastle Project Space, London (2010); 1st Prague Biennale, Veletrzni Palac, Prague (2003); and Elvis + Marilyn: 2x Immortal, ICA, Boston (1994–98). His work is included in the collections of The Fleming Collection, Glasgow Museum, and Royal College of Art, among others. Guy currently lives and works in Glasgow, Scotland.