Paul Insect’s clean yet chaotic work poses an enduring and existential question: who are we and how much of ourselves do we choose to reveal?
Insect’s slick and lively mixed-media works demonstrate the desire to reveal and to hide. The high-profile, reclusive artist, who has sold for upwards of $50,000 at Sotheby’s, is part of an illustrious street art clan alongside the notorious and ever-illusive, Banksy. Insect’s bracing paintings are a collision of colour, line and enshrouded faces with clear references to Dada, Pop Art and graffiti. Anonymous eyes, lips and noses are buried behind swabs of bright primary colours, and bold patterns are collaged and painted onto his canvases. However, behind the energetic compositions and colour palette, a deeper and more pernicious sentiment is veiled: semi-masked expressions unsure as to whether they are trapped inside the confines of the canvas through force or consent.
Photo's by Enrico Policardo
Primary colours and clean shapes stretch over Paul Insect’s large canvases.
In addition to his 2D works, Insect’s eclectic collection of puppets are part of the artist’s ongoing collaboration with New York street artist, Bast. Inverting the covered anonymous faces of Insect’s paintings, the duo’s bright, low-fi satire riffs off eminent societal archetypes: the cop, the robber, the pop star, the rapper, the disenfranchised youth. At Banksy’s acclaimed and critically controversial Dismaland in 2015, Insect and Bast’s Fly Tip Theatre was exhibited. The work, made entirely out of objects found in Hackney skips, consisted of four puppets that the audience were able to control from a bar above. With dubstep playing in plain daylight as the puppets jolted and thrusted their gangly limbs—comic timing all too familiar to the has-been partygoers and jaded ravers—Insect and Bast presented a culturally nuanced satire executed with immaculate wit and vision.
A post-internet artist, Insect offers a nimble critique of our digital identities. The relentless stoic gazes of his concealed portraits look out of their surfaces directly at the viewer. As if acknowledging their own existence as an image, the works have a fragile self-consciousness that binds self-worth to the often vacuous but ever-impeding approval of others. While the desire to present one’s best self is perhaps timeless, the self-promotional platforms of the contemporary age have pulled such psychological drivers to the fore. What to post and what not to post has become a strategy of selection and omission that makes projected identities and lived identities ever-more difficult to separate. Exploiting the same desire to show and to hide, Insect’s rich and clever work interrogates this rift between who we are, and who we choose to be.