David Godbold

ENGLISH-BORN BUT A LONGTIME IRISH RESIDENT, David Godbold has also spent considerable stretches in Australia and the United States, making his own idiosyncratic contributions to ongoing debates on the legacy of European colonialism. Godbold's trademark scatter-hung groupings of framed, text-laden sketches and large-scale wall drawings carry fragmentary scenes from inscrutable narratives of violent conflict, heroic oratory, victimhood, martyrdom, and death. For his eccentric commentaries on the fractured and fractious nature of history and identity he has mobilized a cast of characters that includes Andrew Jackson, George Custer, Montezuma, and sundry personages from the history of Irish nationalism, as well as the artist's own briefly adopted pseudonym Abel Badheart. The pictorial component of his work is stitched together from a bewildering array of sources, with an emphasis on popular iconography and illustration, just as the writing is a tissue of quotations, jokes, puns, and prevarications.

Godbold's latest exhibition was called “Social Anxiety (& other unrelated) Disorder[s]” and, as ever, his grab bag of images and text derived from a well-informed rummage through the mustier corners of European art history and an equally enthusiastic trawl through the less edifying shallows of contemporary pop culture. (Some of his more sententious titles may be traced to such diverse sources as J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books and the wit and wisdom of Britney Spears.) Here, however, the historical panorama was contracted in order to focus on the atomized existence of the contemporary individual beset by the traumas and trivia of everyday life in a world where the expectation is that deep psychological wounds may be remedied by shallow psychobabble and customized pharmaceuticals.

The show was built around the physically slightest work in it, the series “Moments of Intense Anxiety,” 1999–, a squared-off grid of one hundred tiny ink drawings executed on the torn-off ends of 35-mm film packets. Each drawing depicted the highly-keyed expression terror, shock, dismay, horror—on a face sourced from the deep backgrounds of a variety of history paintings. These were handcrafted mugshots of art history's neglected bit players hamming it up, their individual expressions of overwrought humanity cruelly and comically flattened by their regimented presentation. A formal contrast between modernist grid and postmodernist palimpsest was provided by the scattered hang, on an adjacent wall, of twenty-eight framed sketches, of varying sizes and shapes. Most of them were on vellum or tracing paper, through which one could see scraps of found paper: printed cards, scrawled notices, handwritten shopping lists. Send no flowers, 2000, depicted a sylvan scene on which the title, a common phrase from funeral notices (the recent death of the artist's father was obliquely invoked in a number of works), was written, but through which a scrawled card declaring “Roses £3.50 Bunch” was clearly legible. A sketch of a languid figure (swooning or dying?) glossed by the legend “Anger management/Diffuses/Awkward situations” was pasted over a card advertising more rudimentary diversions in Nude Modelsparty with you!!, 2000. All the works in the show, which also included two wall drawings and a couple of small canvases as well as a sound piece, conspired to describe a dizzying spiral of genuine feeling and faked emotiveness, real pain and self-dramatization.

Caoimhin Mac Giolh Léith