Stella Populis by Blondey (Ronchini Gallery, W1S)

With a solo show in the W1 postcode aged 22 years young, I find it hard to be uninspired by Blondey. Whatever is said in any review, he should sleep peacefully from here on after, safe in the knowledge that it materialized. ‘Stella Populis’ is exceptionally relevant to my interest in the relationship between art, celebrity and the everyday.

In his statement, Blondey says that the series is “a study of the manifestations of super-fanaticism relating to both religion and pop culture”, by which I understand and agree that celebrities are often portrayed as God’s. The dichotomy between religion and pop-culture has a long-standing history and a huge milestone is placed in 1966, at the height of Beatle-mania, when John Lennon said the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”, which notably irked his later assassin, born-again Christian Mark Chapman.

I wouldn’t normally go to a preview, but an empty diary sparked curiosity. The atmosphere was strikingly stress-free, and I experienced a wide demographic of people from conversing with unknown's like myself, to earwigging the men in suits talking prices and suddenly standing beside Kate Moss. There was a sincere welcoming feeling that encouraged me to enjoy the work at my own pace.

The centrepiece of the show, titled ‘The Loved One’, meets me as I enter. It is a life size sculpture depicting a crucifixion of the character Plato from the 1955 film ‘Rebel Without a Cause’. In short, Plato, played by Sal Mineo, is shot by police and dies for the sins of his college chums. Similarities appear instantly between the films plot and the Bible, where Jesus Christ is said to have died for our sins. Blondey emphasizes the parallels by literally putting Plato on the cross. At the time of his death, Plato is wearing James Dean’s red Harrington jacket, which has become a cultural icon itself and the artist naturally includes this in his sculpture. ‘The Loved One’ is splendidly unpretentious in the way that it visually connects all these parallels in the simplest way so to need no real explanation (unless you haven’t seen the film). In this way, it dances on the fine line of potentially shallow overtness and a poetically and metaphorically loaded work that enlightens the viewer on how and why pop-culture might be the new religion. I of course opt for the latter.

After a moment of silence underneath ‘The Loved One’, I walk over to ‘Queen Di’. In his statement, the artist describes the Princess of Wales as “the undisputed Goddess of pop culture” which I think is perfectly appropriate. I made a small piece myself which uses the information that the National Grid saw a spike in energy from kettles and televisions as her death was announced. People were truly grieving; she was the first royal figure to cross over into the mainstream media which made her unusually relatable for a royal. Blondey articulates this by printing her portrait on mirrored aludibond metal. In the reflection, we literally see ourselves within her, as so many people did during her liberation from Prince Charles. She was truly the People’s Princess.

Queen Di’ is flanked by ‘Epiphanies’, which see’s 25 slices of toast lined up on the wall. They are faces of celebrities from footballers to Disney stars. The artist says they are “a twist on the clichéd images of Christ that are perceived as concrete proof of his existence”. I understand ‘Epiphanies’ to explore the idea of a personal Jesus which we construct or find, which is the impetus behind the show. Hope is vital to life; it makes life worth getting out of bed. Everyone has a Jesus and by etching these portraits into something as common as toast, Blondey makes us realise that we digest these celebrities almost prescriptively, every day, in the same way someone might go to Church to consume the teachings of God.

I would thoroughly recommend ‘Stella Populis’ to anyone. It is available to see at the Ronchini Gallery until 31 August 2019.