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By Lori Seymour
Walking into Johannes Zits' show,Living with Art, feels like stepping into the pages of a giant Martha Stewart Living magazine.
The walls of the Forest City Gallery are covered with mural sized images of tastefully decorated, smartly photographed interiors. But with a closer look, it becomes evident these sanitized interiors are not afraid to get a little risque.
Zits, a Toronto-based artist, combines images from interior design advertising with paintings of sexual imagery appropriated from gay pornography, to explore the public and private natures of fantasy and desire; all from the perspective of a homosexual man. Each of the 17 works on display, shows an ambiguous couple engaged in various sexual acts within an idealized domestic space.
Zits starts with a picture of a room from a lifestyle magazine. He then digitally manipulates it on a computer, blurring the scene and blowing it up to billboard-size proportions. This acts as the backdrop for his sexual imagery, which is then painted directly onto the surface.
The show is sexual, but not vulgar. The images are painted in an expressive, loose style, making them seem abstract. It is not always clear where one body ends and the next begins. Although Zits has taken the images from pornography, they do not depict explicit sexual detail.
The overall effect of the show is like pop art with a twist. By combining the highly idealized images from advertising, with intimately painted images of sex, Zits contrasts the public and private fantasies contained in each.
A good example is 'Exetische Ideen-Fabrik,' one of the largest works in the show. Set against an ultramodern Swedish inspired living room, it represents the consumer desire found in an IKEA catalog. Zits leaves the advertising titles on the page, highlighting the way in which these private spaces have become public and consumable.
Set off to the side of the image, two painted figures are having sex. The act itself represents a private fantasy within a private space (a living room), but Zits' deliberate use of explicit imagery, once again blurs the lines between public and private desires.
The artist successfully explores the public dimension versus the private, as it relates to issues of advertising, fantasy and consumption. Living with Art is an insightful and thought-provoking show. The quality and scale of the work is impressive and visually, the images are quite engrossing.
Zits has also included some interesting, behind the scenes studies, showing how the large works come together. London is fortunate to have a show of this quality in town; Living with Art is definitely worth seeing.
Johannes Zits - Living with Art- showing at the Forest City Gallery until June 23.