EYELINE MAGAZINE
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.

 

 

MARCEL 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.

 

 

PARALLEL LINES
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 Japanese.

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).
(3) ibid.

 

 

ALIEN CULTURE
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 BladeRunner.

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.

 

 

AUSTRALIAN ART COLLECTOR
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, modernist abstractions.

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.

 

 

MONUMENT
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.

 

 

MCV
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 Plant duos.

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.

 

 

BREAST IMPLANT
AUSTRALIAN STYLE
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 month.

 

CHOP SHOP
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.

 

 

MARCEL 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 eidotropic elements.

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.

 

 

LOOKING 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 it.

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.

 

 

MARCEL 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 in Melbourne.

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 and alien.

 

 

AUSTRALIAN ART COLLECTOR
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 inspiration.

 

 

AGDA
Issue 01:2002
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 urban life’.

 

 

THE AUSTRALIAN APPETITE FOR ASIAN ART IS SOARING, AND MARCEL COUSINS IS TAKING THE RIDE.
Asian Express

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 cultural ideas.

"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.