The weft of Angel de Leon’s diverse oeuvre is held together by the warp of his unique blend of materialist cynicism and dark but gleeful humour; he gazes on the technicolour madness of the world and laughs. The paintings of De Leon laugh too, the question is are they laughing with us or at us?
Bright and swirling with marks, like a drunken memory of mad carnival, De Leon’s painting envelopes us with colour and pattern. His strident expressionist aesthetic is tempered with potent symbolic elements, often collaged together in absurdist confusion and floating in flat space. De Leon presents us with bold images that use juxtaposition of various symbolic figures to poke fun at the values and desires of contemporary life. Throughout his works we see recurrent themes of materialism and vanity, irony and morality: sex and duplicity, beauty and obesity, rage and fragility, partying hard and the consequences thereof; vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas.
All this madness is brushed onto canvas and printed fabric with a dark chuckle. However, reality does not allow one to laugh for long, and we find more than mockery in De Leon’s art; we find a seeking spirit questioning and looking for answers that the received wisdom of today is all too impotent in providing. Especially, in this world of decadence, we see De Leon questioning what it means to be a man (a Gentleman, no less!) in the face of a world that seems to have turned somersaults in the past century and no longer knows up from down. What is the role of a strong masculine figure in modern times when masculinity itself is often considered “toxic”?
In his most recent series De Leon has been inspired by patterned African fabrics but rather than simply embracing their aesthetic, De Leon’s cynical humour is tickled by the absurd nature of global production as a Spanish artist in London finds himself painting an African designed fabric manufactured in China, and uses this ludicrous material history, spanning diverse continents and cultures, to add another barb to his prodding at our social values. We see the artist pointing out the bitter ironies of our world, our civilization and finding the humour, certainly, but if we pay attention we come to realize that these needles pierce deeper than mere irony. It is our lack of morals that is being prodded at in this painted satire. In other words, it seems to me that the question, the joke, in De Leon’s painting tends to be a moral one. We live in a time where we know not whether we ought to revel in our decadence, or aspire to a saintly austerity, whether we should return to the old religion or make a new one of our “social justice”. It is this contemporary confusion, compounded by the cognitive bombardment that is the internet, that streaks across De Leon’s canvas.
In short we find in De Leon’s art the contrast between vibrancy of image and darkness of theme, held together by a free and expressive use of materials, remarkable lightness of heart, and a luminous joyeux de vivre fuelled by the blackest of wits. One’s head may swim with all the unanswered questions of today, but through our glowing screens, more than ever, people may shout that there are conflicting certainties, and irony heaps on irony. Well, if all the world’s a joke why not laugh?
Angel de Leon: Wood Estupendo and Other Works, 2017-2020
By Thomas Cormack