Exhibition Review Issue 77
Written by Mark Pennings
Melbourne artist Marcel Cousins presented some new works in the project room at Ryan Renshaw. Cousins was associated with King’s Art Space in Melbourne before fleeing to Tokyo where he earned a doctorate at Tama University. Since his return he has had an engaging interest in using art to examine the relationship between aesthetics and cultural generics. This disciplined and exiguous installation demonstrated Cousins’ investment in the alluring and illusory power of art, especially in its capacity to transform generic objects via aesthetic processes that operate in exhibition contexts.
“Every Little Thing” consisted of four works: a floor sculpture, assemblage sculpture, and two paintings. The lush floor sculpture Melting Second World War German Soldier (2010) introduced the viewer to the artist’s exploration of counteractive trajectories that can occur between form, content and medium. Although the title specified a historical period for this soldier, the monochromatic treatment of the figure - with its slick dark beige polyester resin sheen – initiated a contextual shift that aligned the piece more with classical antecedents. Famous sculptures such as the “Dying Gaul” came to mind and in turn alluded to idealised and sublimated depictions of war and destruction. Yet, this adherence to flawless classical paragons was abandoned by the sculpture’s deliquescent quality, for the perfectly realised top half of the figure was undermined by a melting lower half and base. This anomaly generated strong contrasts between hard and soft media and concepts surrounding substantiality and dissolution. The original model for the piece was a toy soldier, so the intimate perspective in which one looked down on rather than up to the sculpture reinforced the notion of play and childish imagination.
The artist also acknowledges that people bring different expectations to art viewing and readily concedes our propensity to interpret matters in our own way. This recognition is played out in the probing work It’s Not You It’s Me (2011). In this assemblage sculpture an abstract painting with tartan patterning was reposed upon two file boxes. Cousins’ sculpture is more direct and tidier than the kind of assemblages produced by artists like Isa Genzken or Rachel Harrison, and this is because his approach is informed by the meticulous and precise graphic styles that adorn Japan’s pop commodities. In further stylistic considerations Cousins wilfully exploits the generic dimensions of consumerism’s consumables, for the painting’s abstract configurations are derived from plaid patterns on cheap shirts, patterns that are echoed in the lines that decorate the file boxes. The file boxes also chime with Warhol’s Brillo boxes where generic product packaging is transformed into fine art. The file boxes also suggest art as business and connote the idea of a gallery as an office. The connotations proliferate in this piece of pop abstraction, and if the viewer cannot decipher this hermetic assemblage to their satisfaction they can at least be assured that the artist knows the meaning but cannot explain it to you in a way that you would understand. Such is art’s mysterious power, for it can turn the most jejune and generic of commodities into a puzzling challenge if embraced by an aesthetic aura.
In this show Cousins foregrounds art’s powerful aesthetic dimensions and its capacity to entice and seduce. This affective power isn’t always easy to define and articulate, yet Cousins persists in manipulating its possibilities and this remains his primary interest. For instance, the painting Landscape with Sunset (2011) suggests a very routine theme – landscape and sunset – but the work isn’t so much about landscape painting as it is about the way art’s various visual regimes depict colour and composition. Each painterly style proposes a unique and relative arrangement of nature and the landscape, and reiterates the notion that after painting surrendered its claims to verisimilitude art always present an illusion or fiction about the world. However, once again, it is the way in which this illusion is cloaked in aesthetic clothing that gives it a kind power for which we are willing to offer our credulity.
The earnest painting Junction (2012) also proposes that things don’t also seem to be what they appear. The cross-hatched and spiral pattern in this work readily riffs on Robert Rooney’s clever knitting paintings of the 1960s, but unlike Rooney, Cousins’ version is extremely dedicated to the idea of painting as craft. The image is an up-scaled version of a bank note pattern, and this quick change of context reasserts art’s illusory dimensions. It also speaks of art’s capacity to simulate and dissimulate, and to deceive and enthral. This painting however is actually an exercise in discipline and diligence for it is a meticulous handcrafted copy of a digitally generated pattern. It is thus constructed by obsessive and compulsive means, which ironically completely buy into the ideal that the artist can use art to attain a state of perfection.
Marcel Cousins possesses a firm and intuitive grasp of the changes wrought on generic prototypes and objects when manipulated by aesthetic means in exhibition contexts. And, in relation to the various quotidian and clichéd themes he treats, whether abstract landscape, monochrome abstraction, tartan design, banknote pattern, or office equipment - the specific nature of the subject matter is generally subordinated to art’s aesthetic, illusory and conceptual parameters. That is to say, that the generic themes that are incorporated into Cousins’ art are treated in a manner that both estranges and reanimates them when viewed as art objects. This is enabled because art is considered to exist in a special sphere of culture. Fine art may have largely relinquished its claim to transform everyday life, but its aesthetic power remains undiminished and this is its exceptional condition, and is the quiddity of its autonomy in contemporary life. Cousins has nailed his colours to the mast in relation to this fact and continues to offer a determined exploration of its ramifications.
COUSINS; BUILT ENVIRONMENT
Catalogue Essay 2007
Written by Inga Walton, Floruit Arts Consulting, Melbourne
A somewhat unnerving stillness pervades. No breeze or tremor rustles
the foliage of Marcel Cousins' latest body of work. The paintings
are absorbed in silence; no whispering in the branches, no flutter
amongst the leaves. What should we make of this mute canopy of trees,
so inanimate and undisturbed?
Cousins utilises a wide variety of techniques and media within
his practice- freehand airbrushing, ink-jet printing, conventional
painting, printmaking, computer graphics, screen-printing, collage,
stenciling, and montage- to create these heavily stylised works.
He is uninterested in assuming the role of artist-as-communicator,
preferring to explore the parameters of surface, abstraction, and
the distortion of visual memory. Cousins distils and filters what
he depicts down to interchangeable templates, valid anywhere as
a global artistic currency.
By excising identifying elements and extraneous forms to make
his subjects ubiquitous and commonplace, Cousins' imagery is neither
privileged, nor surrounded with the aura of 'specialness' expected
from modern art. "More recently my work has made a conscious
shift from appropriating images, and dealing with the way images
affect other images, to how the images we create have an effect
on the way we see, and ultimately interact with, the world around
us", he affirms. The artist's hand is deliberately distanced
in order to serve a conceptual goal; these trees have been 'pollarded'
and displaced from their original forms and geographical context.
A decade of travel, work, and study in Japan has left its influence
on the deliberate placement of elements, and spatial control of
the canvas typical of Cousins' work. Indeed, one can discern the
aesthetic rigour and discipline reminiscent of bonsai and ikebana
(or kado¯) in his depiction of nature. By refusing to codify
what is depicted according to time, location, or purpose, perhaps
Cousins is seeking a way in which to bridge the residual gap between
traditional and contemporary artistic forms.
Cousins presents a vision of the natural world reconfigured by
the preoccupations of a digital media age, perennially evergreen
and climate- controlled. A limited palette strips the work of any
organic variance, rendering the representation paradoxically 'lifeless'
and strangely inert. This is a manufactured landscape, as if suspended,
or hermetically sealed. Cousins seeks to address the issue that
so much of what we view and 'experience' has already been mediated
for us, to the extent it is rendered functionally inauthentic.
The manner in which we commonly receive visual information is
already distanced, it lacks immediacy or originality. "How
has the fragmented image- based world we live in changed the way
we see what is around us?", Cousins asks. He invites us to
construct a narrative for his works, to focus innumerable individual
responses upon an image purposefully devoid of that quality.
With this artistic 'deforestation', Cousins invites us to contemplate
our surroundings free of any directive, and to reconnect with them
as more than just a bombardment of disparate images vying for our
limited attention span. He harnesses the ability of displaced objects
to reveal to us what we no longer notice. Cousins wants us, in fact,
to see the wood for the trees.
Helen Gory Galerie Catalog Essay 2006
Written by Michael Ascroft
In the past, Marcel Cousins’ relentlessly pop-styled reworking
of Japanese imagery may have earned him Japanophile status. The
Japanophile obsesses (to varying degrees) over the Other’s
cultural imagery: manga, anime, bonsai, fashion, advertising, shrines,
temples, and so on. The interest, in this case, is reciprocated
- like Cousins says: “put a 25 year old, Anglo-Saxon, heterosexual
male in the middle of Tokyo and suddenly they’re exotic”.
Superflat is, or was, a Japanese contemporary art movement. Takashi
Murakami, the hugely successful artist and author of the Superflat
Manifesto writes: “Society, customs, art, culture: all are
extremely two-dimensional. It is particularly apparent in the arts
that this sensibility has been flowing steadily beneath the surface
of Japanese history… “Super flatness” is an original
concept of Japanese [people] who have been completely Westernized.”(1)
Drawing on diverse traditions including Japanese courtly painting,
manga and Western pop art, Superflat renders these aspects of high
and low culture onto a 2D plane. By absorbing and assimilating the
Superflat style while working the Westerner who has, in turn, become
Following this (speculative) shift, Cousins has consciously moved
away from the identifiable “Japanese” imagery. His new
work is still sourced from pop cultural imagery, but not for any
obvious striking graphic qualities or exotic aura. These works are
at first glance the distilled, contemporary art versions of signs.
For example “tree”, “tram timetable”,the
numeral “5”. It’s a kind of ‘Zero degree’(2)
art making, where ‘communication’ is no longer its primary
function, and instead, a range of ‘surface effects and internal
textual relations’(3) are brought forward.
The images, rendered in muted greys, blues and fluorescent pinks
and greens, hover on glaringly white backgrounds. Cousins’
airbrush technique has achieved a nearly nauseating balance between
the perfection of a repetitive mechanized gesture and the inevitable,
but slight, home-made blemishes. Beyond the coolly banal world of
the sign system, the intensity of this now consummate Superflat
series of work is in the detail - in the subtle manipulations and
distortions that describe the sometimes-marginal difference between
representation and misrepresentation.
(1) Murakami, Takashi, Superflat, pg 5 (Tokyo: MADRA, 2000).
(2) Kearney, R. & Rainwater, M. (eds) The Continental
Philosophy Reader, pg 361 (London: Routledge, 2000).
Catalog Essay 2004
Written by Ashley Crawford
The Far East. A mysterious world of strange customs, odd foods,
dazzling colours and delightful – and repugnant – smells.
A world where the Buddha meets Astro Boy, where geisha girls bow
to salary men and samurai, where ultra-violent manga is read on
the train on the way to pray at the nearest peaceful Shinto temple.
Japan is a world of ancient customs and timeless skills. It is also
a world of cybernetic innovation and surreal juxtapositions where
politeness and ritual cover the extremes of bondage and pornography.
If you are a man, go to a urinal and as soon as you spray the trough
an advertisement will automatically pop up on a plexiglass screen
at face height. Telephone boxes are plastered with offers of exotic
services and Asahi beer and Suntory whisky are available in dispensers
at every street corner. Everywhere the neon flashes, giant screens
battle for attention while, in a mildly hidden underworld, little
girls underpants are traded for substantial prices.
It is both surreal and beguiling and Marcel Cousins has been seduced.
Cousins, took up took up a scholarship at Tokyo National University
of Music and Fine Art in 1999, two years after graduating from Victoria
College of the Arts. His specialty was printmaking and naturally
he was attracted to the sumptuous approach that traditional Japanese
printmaking, especially Moku Hanga (Japanese style wood blocks),
is renowned for. Of course he was aware of the Western fascination
of contemporary Japanese culture, which had been inflamed by the
release of such classic manga as Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 animation
Akira and the Asiatic influence so clearly seen in Ridley Scott’s
The impact of Tokyo on the young artist was far more profound than
he could ever have expected. In his last Melbourne exhibition, Japan
was the overwhelming influence, with hints of pornography, literal
and liberal quoting of advertising and garish hints of neon. In
his current work he has embraced other Asian iconographic imagery,
including Chinese currency. More importantly his utilization of
a diverse range of media – including computer print outs,
spray paint stencils on canvas and colour photo copies – has
resulted in a unique and powerful language. Cousins initial reaction,
as a stunned, round-eyed Westerner, has settled into an elegant,
albeit confronting, series of works.
If you don’t know the language, you may be forgiven for seeing
some of these works as complex abstractions. Those familiar with
Manga, will also see truncated curves of young women in pornographic
poses, hints of hidden narratives. Blues and pinks explode across
the canvas and a translation of a sound bubble says “aaaghh!”
The works buzz with static as though the canvas is being received
over malfunctioning wires direct to the gallery wall.
Even when Cousins’ depicts his more voyeuristic images of
partially disrobed Asian girls, they are rendered with a knowing
humor contrasted with first-hand knowledge of the not-so hidden
world of Asian pornography. The demure versus the temptress, the
whore and the angel.
Experience leads to awareness and to an extent these are socio-political
works. Asia, most especially Japan, is a realm of contradictions.
When Cousins depicts a Chinese bank note it is hard not to notice
that for a regime that has attempted to destroy its Buddhist tradition,
it is a Buddhist temple that adorns the national currency.
Cousins has come of age in this body of work. It is less pop and
more painterly, his meticulous stencil work rising to new heights
of skill. While the central theme is clearly apparent – that
of his fascination for other cultures – where this show succeeds
is more in the artists’ ability to create a highly personal
and unique language. Many Western travelers approach a new culture
via the protection of a camera lense, rather than embrace the odd,
the new and the strange, they tackle ‘experience’ as
though it were a television screen. It is fairly obvious that Cousins
is not that kind of traveler; he has allowed the new into the pores
of his skin, searing lasting images on his retina that are then
developed into a new approach to the visual.
There is only one thing to do. Pick up an Asahi and be enveloped
in an alien culture that in so many strange ways we can be obsessed
– and seduced – by.
Summer Issue 2003/ 2004
Written by Edward Colless
Head of Art History and Theory
School of Art, Victoria College of the Arts
You can rely on the Helen Gory Galerie in Prahan to provide some
of the most vibrant and hip young art that's happening in Melbourne
now. In early November you can catch one of her many stars, Marcel
Cousins, in his third solo show there in as many years. Be prepared
for exhilarating imagery. Cousins' work is as arrestingly beautiful
as it is intelligent and masterful in technique.
His lush, dazzling patterns reflect intricate games with graphic
devices, interrupting huge bubble-jet computer prints of Asian currency
notes (enlarged thousands of times), for instance, with striking,
superflat stencilled landscapes or bodies. Or blowing up low-resolution
Japanese soft-porn imagery, which looks derived from thumbnail gifs
downloaded off the Web, to the scale of crisply pixellated geometric,
And it's as difficult to summarise the themes that this prolific
and exploratory artist is interested in, as it is to itemise the
range of media he enlists. Commerce collides with culture, and historical
tradition is flattened out by a process of graphic decoding, as
if the icons that identify a culture are "de-naturalised"
and translated into the decorative insignia on international travellers'
cheques. But this is not just a complaint against globalisation
or the trivialising effects of tourism. At the same time, Cousins
indicates an exhilarating vision of a future hybrid, borderless
and even weightless culture - a kind of internet, fourth world culture
- constructed out of these very processes of decomposition.
It takes humour rather than moral earnestness to make this vision
convincing; and cheeky humour is one of Cousins' many gifts. Last
year, the peak Australian graphic design body, AGDA, used one of
Cousins' works from his first solo show at Helen Gory as the poster
image for their annual conference. A happy nuclear family, as featureless
and flat as the décor of their suburban interior, is disembowelled
by a huge fragment of a black and white porno Japanese manga image
that cuts through them - as effectively as a car bomb exploding
outside a tourist hotel.
This sort of immediate hit is characteristic of Cousins' jamming
of cultural icons; and that hit always resonates. He has a deep
and ongoing affiliation with Asian culture, taking out a degree
last year at the Tokyo National University of Art, and gathering
up a host of awards there as well as in Australia. With work in
the National Gallery of Australia and the Art Bank collection, Cousins
is making the right moves. Do the same, and get along this show.
Issue 47, April/ may 2002
Cousins can be rightly considered as one the original "graffiti’
artist. In stark contrast to the anonymous "taggers",
Cousins would paste his politically motivated op/pop posters on
obscure walls of the Melbourne CBD. Currently completing a degree
at Tokyo National University, where he has been residing for some
five years, Cousins is an exciting and confronting talent. With
the National Gallery having already purchased four pieces for Cousins’
previous solo show in 1999, this is an exhibition not to be missed.
Issue 78 June 2002
Written by Michael Magnusson
Marcel Cousins’ current exhibition was produced for his Masters
degree, which he studied in Japan using traditional, and modern
printmaking techniques; except here he is the "mass" rather
than the "master" printmaker.
Cousins observes that mass reproduced images are as popular in
Tokyo as Euro-"kitsch" is here, and in his thesis he uses
both the newest digital print methods and the oldest Japanese stencil
techniques, replacing traditional dyes with spray paint and slipping
the odd bit of wallpaper to novel effect. Although inspired by mass-produced
art, all the images are unique. Some are laboriously assembled in
fragmented grids, others are stencilled but individually and subtly
finished like the Frames and Screen or the Indoor plant, Out door
As an "outsider" observing, he pastiches traditional
wood images, travel brochure photographs or subversively combines
them with the underground "Ero Manga" adult comics to
reflect the jumble of real, unreal, traditional and contemporary
associations in any modern society.
Number 63 June 2002
Like a vinyl record that reveals a subversive message
when played backwards, Marcel Cousins’ prints of domestic
bliss are underlaid with an erotic manga scene. For the artists,
it reflects the tension in Japanese society between the formality
of public life and it’s simmering undercurrents.
"The whole affair with Clinton, the Japanese found it difficult
to see why it was such an issue. They saw it as none of anyone’s
business." Thirty-year-old Cousins has been studying printmaking
in Japan for five years- "The first year was a nightmare, it
was so different" – but after gaining a scholarship at
the Tokyo National University of Music and Fine Art found the networks
he needed. Now back in Melbourne, Cousins has prints in the collection
of the National Gallery of Australia and a solo exhibition this
Catalogue Essay 2011
Written by Simon Gregg
Curator, Gippsland Art Gallery
Scratching beneath the surface of life, Marcel Cousins interrogates ubiquitous forms and patterns to discover a compelling visual narrative, resident within the code of the everyday. In a practice that is now well established and highly developed, "Chop Shop" sees Cousins continue his investigation into appropriated imagery – a most fitting title given its association with the trade of stolen goods.
In Cousin’s startling and highly original work, these goods are not so much stolen, as reconstituted within an alternate framework, with patterns and objects from the fringe of our awareness being drawn into the high art arena. We recognise some motifs from the consumerist sphere, but generally he works with the signifiers of broader artistic agendas: Pop Art, Minimalism and abstraction. We observe not so much the object, but the signifier of the object – what it is that makes objects inherently themselves. By distorting scale and exercising a thoughtful selectivity, Cousins supplements the facia of consumerism with an aesthetic idealism, which renders banality as beautiful, and the mundane as meaningful. That he perpetrates this transformation before our eyes makes his project all the more compelling. Our recognition of the subject matter is thwarted by recomposition and recontextualisation; the juxtaposition of imagery from different sources and technologies generates a new narrative field.
While Cousins works within the field of cultural appropriation, his product is gently probing rather than critical of capitalistic propaganda, and seeks to embrace the familiar to generate new meanings and new narratives that are not predefined. In this way, Cousins’ various subjects are reborn anew; their collective history abolished and their associative slate wiped clean. In this refiguring of identifiable elements, Cousins asks questions rather than provides answers. Most pertinently, he asks where meaning might be found today: in abstract concepts or tangible products? Perhaps not in either, but instead a deft composite of the two; a stirring hybrid where reality meets surreality, where we discover a profound and moving sentiment expressed through the auspices of the everyday. In "Background Noise", for example, Cousins presents a dazzling large scale abstract painting. That the pattern motif is the same found on a bank note, printed normally at a miniscule size but here elevated to a grand scale, serves only to amplify the discrepancy between the observable and the unobserved.
Cousins exerts an extraordinary technical proficiency in creating his artworks. He combines the newest technologies with an old world craftsmanship, which sees works such as "Owl (lexus pearl white)" resplendent in a seamless resin finish. His large scale paintings, including "Background Noise", are meticulously produced with a hand held airbrush. Cousins also employs other materials in his practice, including fibreglass, MDF and acrylic on canvas, which serve to underpin the luscious finish of his works; they are as much seductive as they are about seduction. Our sense of comfort in the familiar dissolves, and forms that had previously melted into the background suddenly leap forward to reveal themselves. The impression is that we have entered a heightened sense of awareness, where details hitherto unnoticed become sharply defined, brought into focus, and repositioned as centre stage. The effect also is one of inversion of our everyday world, where everything we thought to be real is proven suspect.
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Marcel Cousin’s art practice is its transcendence of these various signs and signifiers, as proponents of something greater. The cumulative effect of these diverse elements is to fathom a new context, in which altered meanings flourish. The owl becomes not so much an oversized decorative figurine, but an eloquent dissertation on abstraction, Pop Art, figurative art, and consumerism, and the way in which each informs the other. While the meanings become fluid, there is a sense that in embracing a kind of meta-field of signs, symbols and objects, Cousins successfully proposes a whole new order of living.
COUSINS: ENGINEERING ARTISTIC CONCEPTS
Written by Dr Mark Pennings, Visual Arts, Queensland
University of Technology
Marcel Cousins is a conceptual engineer who re-tools elements from
art history to make new propositions about art’s capacity to
signify. In this suite of works he re-configures and transposes ideas
derived from Pop Art, postmodernism and other iconographic and formal
sources to generate new painterly and sculptural constructions.
Cousins is a determined empiricist who keenly examines the abstract
and figurative conceptions embedded in artistic traditions. His numbered
works – ‘50’,’1’, and ‘3’
- are cases in point. The numbers are derived from fiduciary currency,
but his primary focus is trained on art’s iconographic function.
The pair of ‘#3’ abstracts is particularly striking in
this regard. The digits on his enlarged banknote sections adorn a
swirling green psychedelic field in one work, and a red and cream
spiral background in the other. While studying these radiant images
one is reminded of other treatments of numbers in the history of the
avant-garde. For example, the 3s resemble the 5s in Charles Demuth’s
“I saw the Figure 5 in Gold” (1928). In Demuth’s
paean to modernity a flashing numeral on a New York fire engine contains
an impressive hallucinatory power. Cousins however relegates the urban
referent to promote his devotion to form; that is to say, his primary
concern is to amplify the resonant visual surge of his work’s
The artist exploits the lessons of Warhol’s dollar paintings,
but divests the external financial associations because he wishes
to maximize the internal dynamics that constitute his own generic
abstract fields. After Cousins has transposed external to internal
subject matter we discover a fascinating iconological exercise. In
the #3 pairing one is struck by the mute power of the integer as an
iconic motif, but this function is in turn transcended by a new concern:
the nature of iconicity itself. The numbers may be icons but the artist
draws attention to the ‘iconic’ status of the painting
as an entire work of design; that is, as an iconic object over and
above any iconographic detail that may exist in the work. This suggests
that Cousins sees painting as a representational and sumptuary modality
that interacts within a broader cultural sphere - the artwork contains
iconographic traits that are unique to the sphere of art, but is also
an icon in a social world of objects. It is this correspondence in
which meaning shifts between cultural realms that gives these works
such a revelatory appeal. In this sense, Cousins’ approach has
much more in common with the conceptual toughness of Jasper Johns’
number paintings than Andy Warhol’s high/low agendas.
Moreover, in matters related to formal systems of signification, integers
like 1, 3 and 50 are components of a numerical symbolic system, as
opposed to the image regime in which art exists. These represent separate
communicative modes but Cousins re-purposes them to force a cooperative
arrangement that delivers painting as a hybridized conceptual construction.
This construction could be described as an image/number device, which
contains heterogeneous realms that generate a gamut of symbolic operations.
This kind of inventive shift in his conceptual logic is a distinctive
feature of Cousins’ practice. He examines various conceptual
models, pulls them apart, and then reassembles them to create new
paradigms. This literal, pragmatic and almost mechanical approach
is very rewarding on a conceptual level.
Other patterned works like “Watermark”, #3, #4 and #5
traverse similar paths. They derive from the Pop tradition where surface
effects are paramount, and resemble the spray-painted hues employed
in Howard Arkley’s aesthetic schemas. These influences feed
into the absorbing eye candy of Cousins’ ornate designs, but
after viewing the profusion of spirals, whorls and interlarded scrolling
patterns the images begin to offer something more. It is as if the
artist analyses the paintings like an archeologist who sees the patterns
in abstract art as historical samples. This taxonomic maneuver turns
the history of avant-garde abstract painting into a series of artifacts;
and as something that could be labeled – ‘genus abstract’.
Given this sensibility it is interesting to see what Cousins does
with sculptural forms. His “Moments in Time” are up-scaled
toy soldiers that are rendered as melting forms in various stages.
There is a fairly straightforward nod to Pop Art as well as an exposition
about the way war has been celebrated in some movies (i.e. the heroic
clichés as celluloid images that are burned into the mind).
The use of melting might also reflect the dissolution of the war ethic,
or offer a critique of the disaster in Iraq. It may refer to the honourable
sacrifice of soldiers during World War II, which George W. Bush has
unscrupulously manipulated for his own ends. Closer to home, the work
may be a riff on the shameless and superficial pillaging of craft
expertise that some recent artists have made a killing on.
However, if the works contain social critiques these metaphorical
allusions are soon exceeded by more literal preoccupations. Cousins’
probing examination of the sculpture’s formal possibilities
provokes a plethora of dialectical contrasts. The works are slick
and shiny but are literally falling apart. The sculpted solders offer
a number of other dyads: they are hard/soft, new/decaying (melting),
defined/nebulous (figure of soldier turns into blob). Finally, the
melting figures are caught in a state of metamorphosis between figurative
Pop and formal abstraction! As in his painting, Cousins treats artistic
codes and conventions in a forensic manner and his examinations also
involve the re-combination of material and formal components to fit
new artistic formulas.
The intellectual depths of Cousins’ art are characterised by
determined conceptual transpositions that re-align art historical
canons. He engineers art’s styles, genres, aesthetics, and iconologies
to create unique arrangements and new conventions. His works multiply
the range of art’s conceptual possibilities and therefore serve
contemporary painting very well indeed.
THROUGH A LANDSCAPE OF SYNTHETIC MEMORIES
MARCEL COUSINS; BUILT ENVIRONMENT
Catalogue Essay 2007
Written by Patricia Todarello
Previously Marcel Cousins artworks projected environments coded
by signs and symbols. Environments that reflect the power and influence
of media systems to define and shape how we see the world, producing
paintings based on both image and language. Cousins investigated
the authority of these media systems to structure an environment
that also consolidated the ability of these systems inturn to structure
a cultural identity. Cousins formulated a representation of the
world as a landscape that demarcates the role one might play in
Considering these ideas, Cousins latest works extend this dialogue
relative with the idea that the interpretation and visualisation
of a landscape is now the product of a machine. Reproducing images
initially based from photo-media, Cousins re-makes these images
through production methods that give his paintings a look and associate
to a commercial type process. A process that enables Cousins to
control the representation and experience of an environment as exampled
through works such as Tree in a Park (2007), showing how an image,
derived from photo-media, is not only reproducible as an image but
through Cousins detached treatment of the referent becomes non-specific.
A factor achieved even though the titles of Cousins works such as
“Tree by a river next to a bridge” (2006) and “Tree
in the grounds of a well to do family” (2006) actuate a dialogue
that is specific to an actual and physical encounter of the referent.
Consecutively Cousins sets up a dichotomy between an actual memory
and experience and a rationalised and overtly stylised representation
of memory and experience that we see here as the works presented
in this current show. Cousins develops his subject through a series
of stages that serves to displace the viewer inclusively from the
referent, whilst distancing quite literally Cousins/the artist’s
hand, that in method becomes nothing more than a tool to create
a very reproducible commercial item. Cousins paintings translate
an image as a memory filtered through a computer-orientated representation
that mimics an industrialised production. Memory and experience
in the world that Cousins portrays is as synthetic as the material
he uses to paint them with and allude to outside influence that
structure these artworks from a perspective of simulation.
However, what these works imitate does not extend from a corporeal
experience but expand and mediate the memory of an experience from
a machine aesthetic. Cousins paintings are bold designs of both
colour and form that do not resolve an individual subject instead
they economise the referent; a tree becomes an aesthetic form, a
minimal form. There is no clarity of individual characteristics
for the viewer a point one can examine through the examples such
as ”Tree by a river next to a bridge” (2006) that reviews
how one cannot associate individualities from the physical traits
portrayed in this painting nor consider emotive qualities.
In retrospect, Cousins artworks operate from such a sustained distance
a critical engagement that employs the same aspects as his previous
works from the perspective of the spectator and from a creative
point of view. Clearly, Cousins is taking into consideration how
images of the world around us, accessible from global media systems
such as the internet, that allow an individual to experience a world
through such distribution networks whether from a computer screen
or in a magazine. The outcome from this generic distribution of
media images used to portray our world is the role that Cousins
plays through in his landscapes of synthetic memories.
COUSINS; OFFICIAL LANGUAGE
The Sunday Age Preview P 32-33,
October 3rd 2004
Written by Ashley Crawford
There is a long history of Western artists being influenced by
Asia. But despite Australia’s proximity to Asia, and aside
from such obvious practitioners as Brett Whiteley and Ian Fairweather,
that influence is a comparative rarity over the history of Modernism
in this country.
Recently, though, things have changed. The masterful work of Sydney-based
Chinese-born Guan Wei is currently holding pride of place at the
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Another Chinese-born artist from Sydney, Lindy Lee, has just finished
a show at Sutton Gallery in Fitzroy that explored a recent journey
to Beijing.Sutton has followed Lee’s show with the work of
Kate Benyon, which depicts the exploits of her fictional Asiatic
hero, Li Ji.
At Christine Abrahams Gallery in Richmond, Catharine Woo is currently
showing complex abstractions that can also be read as reflecting
her Chinese heritage. Meanwhile, The Ian Potter Centre at Federation
Square is exhibiting Living Together is Easy, a group show of 12
artists from Australia and Japan.
The helengory galerie in Prahran has also recently shown Japanese
artists along side Australians and has followed that show with the
work of Marcel Cousins. To say that Cousins has become enamoured
with Asia as a subject matter would be an understatement. Hailing
from Melbourne, he has been living, off and on, in Japan since 1997,
where he studied print-making under master printmaker Masao Ikeda.
Following that, in 1999, he received a scholarship from the Japanese
Ministry of Education. The rewards and grants from Japan have continued
to roll in since. Cousins’ earlier work was somewhat tongue-in-cheek
and fairly overt in its imagery. The titles of his earlier shows
reveal a kind of self-mockery, as though the young artist wasn’t
sure just how far to push his themes. “Careful, I know judo
and four other Japanese words” was the title of his 1999 show
But Cousins’ current show reveals how far he has outgrown
his initial, somewhat clumsy, admiration for an alien culture. Those
who don’t know the language could be forgiven for seeing some
of these works as complex abstractions.
Those familiar with Manga the violent Japanese comics so popularin
Japan will also see the truncated curves of young women in pornographic
poses and hints of violent narratives. Blues and pinks explode across
the canvas and a translation of a sound bubble cries out “aaargh!”
The works buzz with static as though the images on canvas are being
received via malfunctioning wires.
Whether it be Cousins’ own juxtapositions or those he finds
around him, there is something “off” about his subjects.
When he depicts a Chinese bank note, for instance, it is hard not
to note that a regime that has attempted to eradicate the Buddhist
tradition has chosen a Buddhist temple to adorn its national currency.
Cousins uses a diverse array of media to achieve an almost jittery
restlessness in his work. There are liberal references to pornography,
advertising and comics, all filtered through computer print-outs,
spray-paint stencils on canvas, and colour photocopies, and all
melding to reflect a culture that is both new and old, familiar
Issue 20# April-June 2002
Written by Andrew Frost
After five years in Japan, Melbourne native Marcel Cousins is ready
to come home. “There’s a limit to the amount of time
I think you can spend in Japan,” he says, speaking from his
room at Tokyo University. “I need to come home, to be able
to reflect on the experience I’ve had here.”
Cousins has just graduated form the prestigious Tokyo University
with a Masters degree in Printmaking. With a grant form the Japanese
Ministry of Education, Cousins was able to spend two years working
as a post-graduate student studying printmaking. His approach to
the discipline isn’t traditional, combining painting, drawing,
and computer technologies as well as more mainstream approaches
such as screen-printing and wood blocks into work that is a free-ranging
interpretation of print techniques.
“The University didn’t know where to put me,”
says Cousins. “They ended up putting me in the lithography
(studios) but I never used the facilities. The whole set up at the
University was fairly free and I could do pretty much what ever
I wanted.” How did the course affect him? “The experience
of working in Japan was relevant to me as an Australian, because
it made me reflect on what it means to be Australian, to reflect
on my thought processes and how it changes you.
In 2001, Cousins exhibited a series of works at helengory galerie
that displayed the long-standing fascination the artist has with
Japanese art and culture. The works were a study of Eromanga, the
erotic and often violent Japanese comic books. Cousins’s interpretation
was a multi-layered and abstract take on the hyper-kinetic lines
of these apparently “still” images.
For his May 2002 show at helengory galerie, Cousins has taken a
different approach. With approximately 25 works covering five series
he has produced over the last three years, the latest series of
works study the ukiyo-e style of Japanese printmaking. These prints
stylised portraits of Geisha and landscapes – are well known
in the West because they typify traditional Japanese aesthetics,
being finely balanced in both composition and execution.
For these new works Cousins has played with the scale and context,
creating oddly disturbing pieces that alter a viewer’s perception
of what is being represented while creating subtle distinctions
with various printmaking techniques. It’s a mixture of traditional
and contemporary aesthetics that sits well with Cousins’s
Written by Holly O’Neil
The varied works on paper of Marcel Cousins utilise a diverse range
of media and techniques: screen printing, lithography, wood blocks,
computer prints, spray paint, stencil, canvas collage, paint and
photocopies. He is highly competent approach to his work acknowledges
the historical and conventional relevance of printmaking whilst
extending it into new realms and techniques. Thematically his works
both in Australia and Japan are characterised by an accumulated
diversity of trans-cultural images and sophisticated sense of colour
and visual composition.
Conceptually he is motivated by the potential presented by reproductions
and multiples and by the maze of associations offered up by contemporary
AUSTRALIAN APPETITE FOR ASIAN ART IS SOARING, AND MARCEL COUSINS
IS TAKING THE RIDE.
Marcel Cousins has just returned from living in Japan for five
years and he’s feeling a bit disorientated. Ironically, adjusting
back into a world with friends who speak English and a cultural
environment where he’s not treated like a foreigner is hard
work. "I’ve been living in my own head for a long period
of time,’ he explains.
Cousins took up a scholarship at Tokyo National University of Music
and fine Art in 1999, two years after graduating from Victoria College
of the Arts. Having watched Australian interest grow for both traditional
and contemporary Japanese art and popular culture, he wanted to
explore Japanese ideas and techniques of art, and chose to focus
on the medium of printmaking.
His forthcoming show at Helen Gory Galerie is the culmination of
nearly three years work created in Japan. He uses kirigami (cut
paper stencils) and a dye technique to transfer images, replacing
ink with spray paint to create the opaque block colours. He also
works with screen prints, facsimile machines, lithography, wood
blocks, photocopies, computer printouts and spray paint to represent
"I like the philosophical ideas and communications that come
across from the print,’ he say. While clearly influenced by
his time in Japan, and indicative of Australians fascination with
Asian art, Cousins portrays a variety of images and themes in his
work, such as brand icons (both Japanese and western) and the way
media and marketing can distort them. He explores the cultural relationship
between Japan and the west. "I’m interested in the cultural
slide and misinterpretation. The Japanese are masters of it, but
we do it here as well."
Bringing up his past involvement in street art, graffiti and stencilling,
and cousins groans, then explains: "I liked the anonymous element
of it- to get away from the hierarchy of the highly educated."
He still believes art belongs more than the snooty, chardonnay-quaffing
crowd, and that as a visually aware culture we can appreciate it
on many levels. "You don’t have to be an artist in order
to appreciate or understand something," he offers. Nor does
art not have to be deep or contain a message, as the title of his
exhibition advocates: If You Want To Be Moved Take The Bus.