Artist: Damien Frost
What constitutes as art in this exhibition? There’s the subject matter; those human characters engrossed in costume and fakery. There’s the finished product; exquisite portraits from a world clandestine and freakish. And then there’s the concept; the idea to take a camera and document the dressed up minority. My guess is all of the above.
Originally from Newcastle Damien Frost does not like to call himself an artist. However with a society hooked on tags a description is a must so portraitist is his preference. An unassuming gent is not what one would expect from this man who trawls the streets of London in the wee hours searching for the flamboyant.
The project began as a photo a day posted onto social media (you can find him on Instagram as @harmonyhalo) and with a huge following he was bound to be noticed by a gallery. Fortunately for us Novocastrians The Lock-Up art space contacted him and offered him an exhibition. “Night Flowers” is his initiation into this world and certainly won’t be his last.
But the people behind these costumes. Who are they? London has always been a mecca of subcultures. Dandies, skinheads and punks are just a few. And these people who take to the streets only when the tedious masses head for home are another subculture. They may be straight or not, they may be exhibitionists or they may be one of the meek using the mask to step into a new more extroverted character. Whoever they are they use their face as a canvas and create. Heading off to the clubs is only part of the experience.
Each of these technically perfect portraits define and describe unique personalities and elaborate costumes with expressive contrast, exposure and clarity. It’s a microcosm of society but too beautiful to be described as documentary photography. There is a Caravaggio or perhaps more correctly Renaissance feel to these portraits having the black background with the subject emerging from the darkness. It’s to be noted there is very little Photoshop used to enhance these portraits.
Admittedly part of the appeal of this exhibition is visualising the antics these characters probably get up to when all us masses are tucked up in bed. It’s a bewildering and exhilarating image I can conjure and I envy this walk amidst the expressive side. The splendour and brash ego required to take to the streets in garb both ostentatious and eccentric is one the cautious and meek amongst us can only imagine.
With the gentrification of London happening the subculture is becoming a rarer occurrence as young creatives are being herded out of London to more affordable digs. And while the endless exposure of the youthful and bizarre is constantly documented on social media the appraisal and mimicking of the few can be taken up by the larger populace earlier than in the past. “Night Flowers” while part of the conundrum, being so intricately wound up in the culture of social media, takes the exposure to another level separate to the mere craving for “likes”. This is an art form with context and beauty and comes with a relationship to today’s youth already established and already embraced.
The art barbarians amongst us will see an indulged fashion photographer. However with the intention of understanding the contemporary art culture we’re surrounded by and with an ever increasing intolerance of the routine conservative works saturating the market it’s worth seeking a higher understanding of this art.
It’s a vibrant place the old eerie lockup on an opening night. With alcohol flowing and the art set of Newcastle enjoying the music and a bit of a chat it’s an exhibition not only of art but of the stratification of the Newcastle art scene. The Lockup is aiming high with a penchant for the contemporary, youthful and contextual art. You will find no place for the purely decorative end of the spectrum. And that’s good. There are a lot of galleries in Newcastle and definition is welcome.
Night Flowers is at The Lock-Up 90 Hunter Street, Newcastle until the 13th March. For more information ring: 4925 2265.