At first glance, you might mistake the various objects in the paintings that make up As Above, So Below, the latest exhibition from artist and Londoner Graceland, as simply that – objects. However, on further inspection, you will begin to notice patterns, suggestions and tongue-in-cheek quips amongst the brightly coloured bottles of pills, notes taped to walls and crucifixes, all horribly relatable and all refreshingly frank.
The exhibition’s location, a terrifying virtual motel complete with police tape and bloody walls (available through the Maddox Gallery website till the 20th of November), is the perfect setting for Graceland’s work; there are paintings that reference the crushing terror of the Covid-19 pandemic, paintings that poke fun at consumerism, paintings that question the very future of Earth itself – and they are all painted in Graceland’s provocative style, melding pops of colour with surreal images and a sprinkle of darkness. Inspired by horror movies, classical art, occultism and everything in between, if you dare to journey through the doorway of the Graceland Motel to take a look, you’re sure to be in for a wonderfully horrifying time.
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Hey Graceland! Could you tell us a bit about yourself for those of our readers who might not know you yet?
Hey! I am an artist from London and my paintings reference symbolism, the unknown side of human psychology and human consumption.
I’ve just been for a snoop around the corridors of your spine-chilling virtual motel, and it’s safe to say I’ve never experienced an exhibition like it! As a result of the pandemic, artists around the world are finding new, innovative ways to present their work, with virtual exhibitions becoming the new normal. How have the last few months been for you as an artist unable to show your work through the usual channels?
Ahh, yes! That’s what I was hoping for when people viewed it – something different! I’ve actually found it ok. At first, it was scary because no one knew what would happen, but we all got used to things and adapted quickly. I generally show my work through social media and my website, but the thing I miss most is openings and exhibitions as those were my favourite.
Your work explores current anxiety-inducing topics such as the pandemic (which is referenced in an all too relatable painting titled Cwarantine), Donald Trump, veganism, and the very uncertain future of our planet. These themes are alluded to using backgrounds littered with modern-day paraphernalia, alike to the symbolic motifs employed within the paintings of the Renaissance period, executed with a humorously cynical eye. Am I right to think you’re influenced by the Old Masters?
Yes. I studied history of art in college and I was just so fascinated by all the mystery, techniques and stories that go into the paintings of those periods. There are many secrets in art that people miss. The subject I am most influenced by is symbolism. I use this in my work to tell stories of historical and current events, and also to create my own dystopian/utopian world.
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Although your work discusses issues and anxieties that are overtly relevant to the 21st century, it also involves themes that are as old as humanity itself, such as religion, heartbreak and existential terror. Do you think these themes have been, and always will be, present in human creativity?
I believe those three things make up humanity, so yes, they will always be present no matter what century we progress to or leave behind. You just explained the three things humanity relies on: religion, something to believe in and have hope for; heartbreak, finding love; existential terror, fear of the unknown in all aspects of life, which in turn suppresses our immune system as a stress response.
Despite being influenced by historical works of art, your aesthetic style is much more contemporary. You also studied digital art and animation at university. How did you manage to discover your signature style at the intersection between classical inspiration and an interest in digital mediums?
I studied history of art and fine art in college, so a lot of my time was spent visiting Italy to study Italian Renaissance art and to see cathedrals and churches. Before I started university, I had decided I really wanted to be a concept artist for film and do the special effects and CGI for them (which I have a degree in). I also studied graphic design, which is why I base my art on the digital side, but I still keep the fine art side extremely present.
You have said that you find motivation through topics such as witchcraft and the occult, evident in the exhibition’s title, As Above, So Below. What draws you to these areas? 
It’s the unknown areas of humanity that I love and research. Anything in day-to-day life doesn’t hold my attention, it’s more of the side of life that people don’t necessarily speak about on a day-to-day basis. I look at it as we are all trying to find an answer in life, and those types of subject matters tell me more about humanity and the psychology of humans. For example, sometimes I study the criminal mind as I find it fascinating.
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Have you always been fascinated by the darker side of history?
Yes, always. I’m not sure why, but even as a kid I was drawn to it. I found myself very intrigued by subject matters that have elements of the macabre to them.
Pop culture references are also evident in your work, as seen in the form of slasher legend Ghostface popping up outside the window in your painting Cwarantine. Are you a big horror movie fan? What else inspires you?
Yes, horror is my favourite genre of film! There are elements of optimism in my work and the style draws people in as it is very colourful. My colour palette is influenced by the USA, in particular the Art Deco era in Miami – for example, Miami Vice. I also love America and its aesthetic; I spend a lot of my time there as it’s so colourful and bright.
I also love the open plains and tiny towns it has that are hardly populated. I put hills with eyes in my work as it symbolizes isolation and never being completely free, which also links to another inspiration I have, which I study heavily – mental health.
Despite much of your work appearing to be pessimistic about the future of our planet to the point of nihilism, do you also maintain a bit of hope?
I really do believe that life is what you make it. I’m also a strong believer in manifesting your future. I feel like many people are blind and don’t know how to make the best of the life we have. Life is one big game, and many don’t know how to play it. I am still learning too.
What do you have planned for the future (assuming there is one)?
I have a lot coming up with Maddox Gallery, which I’m so excited about, and many canvases to paint! I hope to one day have a Graceland world that people can visit.
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