In 1988, at the group exhibition Freeze in London, organized by Mat Collishaw’s friend and classmate Damien Hirst, the artist presented the work Bullet Hole – a cibachrome on fifteen light boxes (2 × 3 m) – a closeup photo of what appears to be a bullet hole wound in the scalp of a person’s head. This work was the hallmark of Collishaw At the London exhibition, Goldsmith College students set a new vector for the development of Western European art, summing up the “revival of the painting of the 80s” and addressing with interest to the everyday issues of society and the harsh realities of life. The Freeze show launched the new generation of artists – Young British Artist’s (YBA).
The central place in Matt Collishaw’s work is occupied by the themes of illusion and desire, by which he operates, destroying and questioning the daily perception of the familiar images. So the artist analyzes the influence of hidden mechanisms and visual techniques on the human mind and subconscious. The works attract the viewer’s attention with a kind of balance between seductive and repulsive, familiar and shocking, poetic romanticism and gloomy illusory. In the focus of Collishaw’s attention – plots of forbidden stories: “I am fuelled by things in my past which were suppressed or held at a distance, which have generated some form of hunger to make my work.”
The artist often refers to the work of old masters. Most of the works by Collishaw contain both references to historical subjects, and classical techniques of depicting nature and nature characteristic of the culture of that era. Borrowed images are digitally processed and presented to the viewer in a new interpretation, thus revealing the relationship between representation and reality.
Collishaw’s interest in the Victorians is no coincidence: 19th century Britain viewed itself in the light of scientific progress and empirical soberness. Collishaw references the Victorian period by simulating its elaborately decorative, romantic style, but he indirectly conjures up that society’s dark side, the corrupt underbelly so pertinent to the present day. He drags our darkest urges into the light – illustrating that humans will never overcome their baser instincts, regardless of aesthetic or scientific advancement.
Collishaw has evinced a fascination with the early Victorian machinery used to achieve illusions. Through spectral projections, pioneering modes of photography and zoetropes (which were invented early in the Victorian age as a form of pre-film animation), Collishaw’s work conjures up an awe- inducing ruse. In 2010, The Victoria & Albert Museum commissioned Collishaw with his largest zoetrope to date – a monumental onsite project, ‘Magic Lantern’, which was installed in the cupola above the entrance and appropriated the very architecture of the V&A, creating a beacon of light, complete with an attendant swarm of moths, which was visible across London during the winter months.
In 2015, the New Art Gallery in Walsall hosted a major retrospective of works created in the middle of the artist’s creative career. Comprising two floors, the survey exhibition encompassed seminal works including All Things Fall (2014) originally commissioned for his major solo exhibition at Galleria Borghese in Rome in 2014. The work is a zootrop from more than 300 separate figures, animating the biblical episode of the extermination of infants in Bethlehem – The Massacre of the Innocents.. This work was described by the critic Waldemar Januszczak as “nothing less than a contemporary masterpiece”, as the optical illusion attracts the viewer and returns to questions about the oldest social conflicts.
In 2016, for the project of The National Trust of Great Britain, Collishaw produced two works, inscribing them in the interiors of the decorative pavilions of Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Water Garden – a National Trust World Heritage Site in Yorkshire. The first work, “Seria Ludo” – is a glowing, strobe lit chandelier, covered with 186 figures. As the installation was rotated, the image revived, resurrecting scenes of noisy bacchanalia, during which the characters eat, drink, fight and dance. The other work is the ‘Temple of Piety’ and the serene Lunar ponds on the edge of the water garden were decorated with a calmer work – The Pineal Eye, which was a pair of parabolic mirrors facing each other. The optical effect created an ephemeral mirage of the Roman picture of piety: a Greek girl breastfeeding a prisoner in the fetters of her father – a plot depicted on the far wall of the Temple.
In 2017 in the gallery Blain | Southern was presented the work “Albion” (The Albion) – the projection of the famous Oak in Sherwood forest of Nottingham, according to the legend served as a refuge for Robin Hood. After the natural death of the legendary oak, local authorities installed complex steel structures supporting its former appearance. Created by laser scanning and playback using the “Pepper’s Ghost” technique, the projection of oak is a rare opportunity to see a thousand-year-old tree and a vanishing monument of antiquity.
Mat Collishaw’s works have been exhibited in numerous museums and public collections globally, including: Tate, London, Somerset House, London; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, UK; Galleria Borghese, Rome; Pino Pascali Museum Foundation, Bari; Bass Museum of Art, Florida; Freud Museum, London; Galeria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna, Italy; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville, Paris; The Brooklyn Museum, New York; Museo di Roma, Rome; MNAC, Barcelona;Arter Foundation, Istanbul; British Council Collection, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Torino; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Museum of Old and New Art, New South Wales; Olbricht Collection, Berlin.