I had no expectations of this exhibition beforehand, having no knowledge of the photographer or his work, but I really loved his work. It was thought provoking and visually arresting. According to the Ballarat Foto Biennale he is known worldwide for his unique, hyper-realistic aesthetic, through which he communicates profound social messages. An accurate account I think. This was the first exhibition of his work in Australia, at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery during the Foto Biennale 19 August – 17 September 2017.

Here are just some of the works on display that I really admired. Apologies for the poor quality pics, photos of photos rarely turn out well. These just give the flavour of the exhibition and will hopefully encourage you to seek this artist out. This is called Can You Help Us? and was shot on Universal Studio’s ‘War of the Worlds’ set which we visited when we were in LA some years ago. The model is wearing a Viktor and Rolf gown that I’ve seen in an NGV exhibition (worlds colliding). It illustrates La Chappelle’s interest in environmental issues, climate change and the paradox and cost of consumption and decadence. This one is Early Fall. If you look carefully, what is a traditional Baroque still life painting style is full of atypical items like old mobile phones, barbie dolls, burning cigarettes and plastic bottles; exploring contemporary vanity, vice, the transience of earthly possessions and, ultimately, the fragility of humanity. Candy Mosque. Fantastic colours. It is a picture of a mosque made entirely of candy. Land Scape Kings Dominion. These are all models in miniature made from plastic bottles, egg cartons and other waste materials. The message is an ominous one, that oil refineries and the disposable items we incessantly create have altered our present and threaten our future. I really loved this picture, very inadequately captured here. It is very big, which doesn’t come through. It’s called After the Deluge: Cathedral. Based on Michaelangelo’s ‘the Deluge’ in the Sistine Chapel, it references our material world engulfed by flood with religion unable to protect us. That’s my take. (detail) Seismic Shift is a monumental image created over three years in a Hollywood studio. It showcases consumerism in the form of contemporary art as fair game for nature’s revenge, as the catastrophic effects of an earthquake destroy the decadent trappings of modern life. That’s from the artist. La Chappelle is famous for images of winged people, maybe just winged handsome young men. I’m not sure what it means. It is certainly beautiful. He’s also famous for pictures of celebrities like Michael Jackson below. And this is one of his most famous photographs, being the last one ever taken of Andy Warhol. I really liked this image which is one of three, each with a different figure, seemingly floating in water, part of series called Awaken which has a similar theme to the Deluge picture. Are we being submerged by our own consumerism, being drowned in stuff? Or even drowning in our own dreams and ideals? My interpretation. These photographs of gas stations in Hawaii have something of the same feel to them. The lush natural scenery seeming ready to engulf the man-made structures. And now, here is a final image from the show that really moved me, saying as it does, even our most civilised, cultured pursuits are doomed in the long term, or maybe even in the short term. This was a fine exhibition, and I would encourage everyone to see La Chappelle’s work if you ever get the chance.

 

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