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ART MONTHLY SEPTEMBER 1999, All Things Lowbrow, Clive Phillpot

Around the corner from Waterloo Station in Lower Marsh is the Last Chance Saloon.
Describing itself as an "eclectic emporium of all things lowbrow", and containing
posters, books, clothes and decorative objects, it provides an appropriate
location for Mark Pawson's retrospective. Previous exhibitions have included:
Billy Childish, Vince Ray, The Art of Kitsch Bitch and Coop. Frank Kozik is
next in line after Pawson.

It is fitting that Pawson's work is on view in both the basement gallery and
the street-level shop since the line between his art and his other, more commercial
products is a fine one. In the gallery he is showing mostly xerographic works
described as multi-overprints or unique copier prints. Upstairs in the shop,
there are more such works, but these are obliged to jostle with the other
merchandise on display, as are other Pawson objects, like T-shirts, books,
postcards and badges. Confirming Pawson's beginnings in mail art ( and its
lasting effects) are two exhibits that make specific reference to artists:
the first, an editioned postcard, commemorates the death of Ray Johnson; the
second is a limited edition toilet seat covered with Achille Cavellini's
ubiquitous stickers.

The works in the Saloon's basement gallery, generally framed and hung around
the walls, seem to be more artworks than shop fodder. Their manifestations of
mulitple repetition and the variability of machine reproduction link them
with Warhol. Here for example, instead of cow-head wallpaper are sheets of
multiple, colourful Mr Blobbys. Many works are produced in series, but the
variability of Pawson's overprinting procedure leads to the creation of
unique works featuring layers of appropriated or subverted graphic images in
various colours. These pieces exhibit not Warhol's lush silkscreen effects,
but the rich layering of colour xerography, though some of the most alluring
effects are similarly produced with less beguiling embedded imagery. Note the
detail of the motif entitled "Aggressive Paisley" which includes bombs and
scalpel blades.

Labels such as copier art or mail art certainly fit aspects of Pawson's work,
but they do not describe its totality, for as important as printing,
publishing and assembling are to him, so too are collecting and retailing.
But there is an unusual continuity among these preoccupations that can be
illustrated with one example: Pawson has a collection of the small card
wiring-diagrams that have been fixed to new British electric plugs for
many years. Drawing on this collection he published a small book of
xerographic reproductions of 40 of these surprisingly different diagrams, some
in colour. (Hundreds of these books have since been sold, and some have been
designated as "artists books".) Subsequently he made small badges bearing images
of plugs, and then recently published a line of T-shirts emblazoned with plug
wiring-diagrams. All these items can not only be bought at the Last Chance
Saloon and a few other stores, but they can also be found at Pawson's weekend
stall at the Camden Stables Market (together with choice items from other
sources). And for the full range of Pawson's merchandise you can go to
www.mpawson.demon.co.uk.

Does this mean that Pawson is a "business artist"? Has he taken "the step
that comes after art", as Warhol put it? Probably not. Like most other
artists Pawson has to sell work to support himself, at least in part, but
his values - evident overtly and covertly in his art - are not capitalist.
The economy in which he participates is not far from the implicit barter of
mail art and street-market survival commerce. Furthermore, the name of his
phantom organisation, the "Aggressive School of Cultural Workers"
(pace Johnson), and the slogans, logos and icons that feature across the whole
range of his work, such as "no copyright",
"demolish serious culture"
(from Henry Flynt) and "art strike" (from Metzger and Home), give a better
idea of his ideological playground. Similarly the counter-cultural tendency
of these expressions is in line with the other products that he sells and with
his 1994/95 wide-ranging exhibition and its catalogue: Counter-Intelligence:
Zines, Comics, Pamphlets, Flyers ... Self-Published & Autonomous
Print-Creations.

Pawson himself has likened his practice to an accumulation of hobbies
that fortunately also provide him with a livelihood. While his works
sometimes possess the more negative features of hobbies, particularly the
accumulative ones, others of his works simply exude the pleasures of
assembling and making that can be obtained from such pursuits. But over
and above this Pawson disseminates his striking graphic work and messages
through a variety of means that are very effective in reaching a mixed and
diffuse audience.

Mark Pawson"s "No New Work" is at Last Chance Saloon until September 16.

Clive Phillpot has an essay in the new catalogue raisonne Edward Ruscha Editions
1959-1999 published by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

5 July -16 September 1999 at the Last Chance Saloon