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I'm Good Thanks: Dark comedy of a Catalan cartoonist on show by Hackney Downs

PUBLISHED: 11:50 15 April 2019 | UPDATED: 15:45 15 April 2019

I'm Good Thanks features a body of new work from Spanish illustrator Joan Cornella. Picture: Public Gallery.

I'm Good Thanks features a body of new work from Spanish illustrator Joan Cornella. Picture: Public Gallery.

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Public Gallery co-director Harry Dougall talks to us about I'm Good Thanks: an exhibition of new paintings from Barcelona's renowned artist Joan Cornellà.

Joan Cornella's latest exhibition features an attention-grabbing sculpture in the centre of the room. Picture: Public Gallery.Joan Cornella's latest exhibition features an attention-grabbing sculpture in the centre of the room. Picture: Public Gallery.

The centrepiece of Joan Cornellà's latest art show is a real eye-opener.

Found in a room full of new paintings penned by this renowned Catalan artist, the piece in question is a sculpture of a cartoon figure dressed in a garish pink suit, cheerfully grinning and making a peace sign with his fingers while he takes a selfie. Nothing to see here – except the character is also just about to hang himself.

Combining dark humour, unsettling imagery and issues which – though difficult to face up to – have a universal impact, Cornellà's new show is called I'm Good Thanks and runs at Public Gallery until Saturday May 4.

The gallery's co-director Harry Dougall says: “Each work holds a mirror up to the depraved nature of society; confronting everything from our unnatural connection to social media and masturbatory selfie culture, to political topics like abortion, addiction and gender issues. No subject is off limits.”

The flyer for the show, which runs in Hackney until May 4.The flyer for the show, which runs in Hackney until May 4.

That last sentence could do with some extra emphasis – no subject is off limits. Amongst Cornellà's new works are women playing basketball with a baby, a man pointing to a clipboard which reads “Remember, your life sucks,” and a shot of a lady making a heart shape with her hands around text saying “I'm full of shit.” Each painting is bright and colourful, and each features a character smiling broadly.

Controversial? Yes. Wickedly humorous? Definitely. Relevant to the stigma of mental health that still clings on in our society? Also yes. Next time someone says “I'm Good Thanks”, it's worth questioning – are they really, though?

Cornellà has amassed a following of over 7 million on social media and his new show, which launched on April 4, has been a huge hit so far. What is it about his art that people like?

“I think he taps in to something we all recognise more and more,” says Dougall, “these are topics that are constantly on everyone's mind. Whether they be social media or gender issues; there are no holds barred.

Public Gallery co-directors Harry Dougall (left) and Alex Harrison. Picture: HOODS Magazine and Charlie LockyerPublic Gallery co-directors Harry Dougall (left) and Alex Harrison. Picture: HOODS Magazine and Charlie Lockyer

“He tackles these issues in a very direct, often controversial way. His works are so relatable. They're done in these sickly sweet, colourful, cartoon ways which lure you in to a false sense of security. There's a dark comedy but these are serious points that he is tackling.”

Public Gallery, which recently celebrated its first birthday, is run by Dougall (25) and 31-year-old Alex Harrison. The gallery usually stages solo shows for emerging contemporary artists, but they weren't about to turn down the chance to host Cornellà. Born in Barcelona in 1981, the Catalan has exhibited everywhere from Shanghai to Seoul, Paris to New York.

“I think we all laugh at misery,” explains the artist himself. “We must start from the idea that when we laugh, we laugh at someone or something. With empathy or not, there is always some degree of cruelty. In spite of that, I am aware that if one of my cartoons happened in real life, I would not laugh at all.”

Dougall realises that the exhibition's brand of dark humour isn't for everyone, but says many have connected with it – “laughing whilst simultaneously feeling bad for laughing.

He continues: “My view on art is that any show in which you walk in to and experience – with the aesthetics and the subject matter – you want to leave feeling something.

“Whether that's abhorrent horror, a disconcerting feeling – you might despise what you saw – or massive enjoyment; a feeling of love and overwhelming positivity. There's nothing worse than an art show which leaves you feeling indifferent.”

There doesn't seem to be any danger of that here.

I'm Good Thanks continues at Public Gallery, 17 Amhurst Terrace, E8 2BT until Saturday May 4. Entry is free. More details here.

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