We all know the image of the strutting peacock. With his tail feathers fully expanded, the male peacock flashes his beautiful colourings in an attempt to woo the ladies. It’s a scene of male bravado, animal courtship and outright flirtation. It’s also a scene that’s captured by Josh Robbins in his latest exhibition, Bonjour Mamacita, at Flinders Lane Gallery.
Through a series of saucy, humorous and energetic paintings, Robbins explores the performance of desire by portraying birds in the act of seduction. Bonjour Mamacita literally translates to the wonderfully clichéd line, ‘hello ladies.’ Although the artist denies an explicit connection between people and birds, looking at the work it’s hard not to anthropomorphise the images.
In Bonjour Mamacita, language plays a key role in communicating the very implicit links between birds and humans. Alongside the painted birds are phrases relaying various bird puns and well-known pick-up lines. As Robbins explains, the inclusion of these phrases is driven by the question, “What would they [the birds] be saying if we translated bird language into human language?”
Aesthetically, Robbins’s work is clearly influenced by traditional Japanese art and often employs Japanese-inspired imagery. In general, his practice has largely focussed on the materiality of wood and trees and this is subtly evident in Bonjour Mamacita.
The exhibition features a sound composition by James Cecil (also known as Super Melody) which Robbins describes as “this Barry White, disco, Beck, sexy thing.” In this show, Robbins makes it clear that he’s interested in going beyond “just paintings on walls” and Bonjour Mamacita also includes performance and sculpture. Each Saturday a performance artist will reside in the space, playing the role of a female bird caught within the male gaze of desire. A bird sculpture will fill the performer’s absence during the week.
The inclusion of non-painting works is part of the artist’s aim to create a “fun, joyous and celebratory show.” Robbins wants to ensure audiences aren’t “intimidated by art” as he believes that “art is about respite.” There is no convoluted meaning behind Robbins’s work; the paintings are designed to portray exactly what the literal image suggests. As Robbins says, “I like art that stops you, just because of its own visuals.”