Call to your imagination an image that juxtaposes the collaged portraits of Wangechi Mutu and John Stezaker with the trashiness of vintage pulp, then paint over it a shiny coat of conspiracy theory. The resulting image will likely resemble ‘Untitled’, a collage created from fragments of pop pulp culture by Canberra-based visual artist Kitty Von Lustbaden.
While Von Lustbaden’s work mainly consists of acrylic paintings and ink drawings influenced by street art and comic book culture, he also occasionally works in collage. Although examples of his collage work are rare, his hand for collage is certainly his greatest artistic asset. Von Lustbaden possesses a sharp eye for texture, shape and composition, a keen wit and deep knowledge of pop culture, which together form a powerful toolset for the creation of truly striking collage.
Upon initial viewing the impression from Von Lustbaden’s collage is vastly unsettling. Ragged and mismatched edges of magazine paper peel away from a cheap MDF picture frame, and the subject matter hints ‘conspiracy theory nut’. The viewer could be forgiven for considering this derelict image not art but rather a desperate message hastily scrawled to warn them of an approaching doom. For a select few viewers open to ideas of alien takeover, this image could tip them into a fit of paranoia. For the art observer, however, closer inspection reveals a meticulously crafted piece of work, specifically designed to evoke this paranoid excitement while paying homage to the pulp magazines of the early 1900’s.
The raggedness, hastiness and cheapness are executed perfectly as a reminder of these cheaply printed ‘pulps’ sold to the less-educated working class for 10c a piece, which now attract cult following. These ‘pulps’ included trashy fiction titles such as ‘Wanted-Dead Man’ (1946) and ‘Express to Hell’ (1938), and are often centred on themes of horror, sci-fi and witchcraft. Borrowing from this, Von Lustbaden’s collage rings with themes of horror and tales of inhuman beings.
The repeated pyramidal shapes throughout the composition introduce sharpness and frame the central point of terror – the lower half of the face and mouth. Serene eyes blend into a snarling face, preventing the viewer from effectively reading this being’s expression. This frustrates the viewer delightedly in terms of working out the underlying intent of the artwork. It’s a bit like attempting to predict the next move of a pit bull – will it bite or just be?
Every cut and tear is carefully placed so the composition and lighting snap together nicely. The textures, ranging from intricate to bold, cleverly induce a sense of discomfort, exemplifying the terror. The colours are a strange mash of vintage brown, pink and orange against hard black and white contrasts that bark at the viewer. It is these clashes that lead to the schizophrenic mood of this collage, and provide its visual appeal. For a small-scale piece at only 20x25cm there is massive depth to this collage, which is notoriously difficult to achieve when working small. Yet not only has Kitty Von Lustbaden demonstrated great control in the execution of this collage but he has also demonstrated the admirable quality of being able to let go of control where appropriate. It is this balance that truly brings ‘Untitled’ to life.
Check him out…
You can see Kitty in Canberra band Teen Skank Parade as lead vocalist and guitarist, hear his voice on Canberra Comedy Festival TV ads and voiceovers, and find him on facebook here.
The reviewer is an acquaintance of the artist.