What happens when you take a classically trained artist and place them in a culture surrounded by skateboarding, hip-hop and break-dancing? You get street artist Cosmo Sarson, Jesus and 1kg of glitter.
During his student years, he was sponsored by Paul Smith, a visionary British designer. This says a lot, considering how much Smith has done to shape the visual language of British design inside and outside of fashion. Testimonials aside - what was it that might have drawn him to the artist?
There's a sort of dark humour to his work, something that rarely happens when an artist is channeling the deeply psychological elements of Francis Bacon and Caravaggio. In 2015, Sarson created his piece - Screaming Pope. In it we see a Bacon-esque Pope on the right, distorted and roaring at what he sees in front of him - an apparition of Jesus Christ, breakdancing before him on the ground that leads to his throne. The Pope is craning his neck away in horror at what is in front of him. Luckily, what we are seeing doesn't make us want to look away. It's a quintessential depiction of the cross-cultural approach that Sarson takes and you can't help but stare.
The classical style of the painting is notable, yet the theme is entirely contemporary and even slightly surreal. Sarson hasn't always been this way though. Despite his classical training, he didn't really know what to do with it. Dissatisfied by the art world, he took a break for a grand 12 years. Citing reasons that art only pays the select few, he pursued a career in advertising and set-design - before his large comeback.
After leaving for such a significant amount of time, it is absolutely imperative to make a big splash. A quiet re-entry into the art world just won't do. So, it was here that the aforementioned breakdancing Jesus first saw public light. On a particularly prominent wall in street-art mecca bristol he used 1kg of gold glitter to act as a holy backdrop for an image of Jesus upside down, propped up by his arm.
Naturally, it caused a bit of a stir. Although verging on sacrilege, it seems that humour prevailed in this case and the splash was a mainly positive one. As if announcing his artistic resurrection with an image of a breakdancing Christ wasn't enough, he decided to do something else pretty bold - create the world's first augmented reality graffiti.
Created for the 2012 London Olympics, they started out as static images of people's faces in various poses. From there, they became interactive - they were talking heads. The faces, under a bridge as part of 'The Olympic Walk', are voiced by local performing arts students addressing issues about their own fears, hopes and dreams. The concept behind it was that this would help people reassess their views and opinions on the young people - those that they might usually be too quick to judge. As part of the Olympics push for accessibility, it also granted access to blind people who would otherwise have been unable to see it.
This isn't to paint Sarson as some kind of street-art saviour, but there's no doubt that his works are always stacked with grand ideas. His interest in religious imagery and mythology continued. In his 2015 solo show, Pure Evil, he created a contemporary take on another classic, Carvaggio's The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. To bring it into our modern lives, the figure was now pinning his victim down under a graffiti-daubed underpass.
In one of his latest pieces, The Angel of Brighton, he furthers his exploration of religious themes. By bringing grander themes into street art and injecting a usually relatively contemporary movement with some classical themes, it crosses bridges in a unique way, creating narratives between times in history as much as between genres of art.
Sarson looks likely to continue on the same trajectory, creating interesting and explorative works. The gold backdrop theme has returned again this year and it has given him a recognisable voice in street art. The classical elements, through their hues and themes, create drama in his works. Even the breakdancers he occasionally depicts (not Jesus) seem like they are from times long past. In that 12 years, he seems to not necessarily have grown-up, but grown into himself. Hopefully there are no other such breaks on the horizon and that his creation of truly awe-inspiring murals does not slow down.
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