THOMAS ZIPP ’S WORKS ARE DIMLY LIT BY THE CONFLAGRATIONS OF THE PAST : atomic explosions and the bombs dropped on Germany during the Second World War, glimmers of scientific and artistic achievements. A confused historical consciousness and a dose of black humour permeate his canvases, collages, sculptural objects and pseudo-mathematical diagrams. The Berlin-based artist has revived the once ubiquitous symbol of apocalypse – the atom bomb – as a key motif. Paintings crudely depict explosions, and menacing portraits show pale, globular aliens and men with steely grey eyes. For Achtung! Vision: England Attacked by the Subreals (2004) Zipp reproduced Max Ernst’s group portrait of the surrealists, but covered the men’s heads with small oil renderings of space creatures, turning the artistic gathering into a colloquium of sinister celestial expats. The grey palette, map of England in the corner and concentric circles etched into the background explain the title’s warning and give the work its black spin: we have on show not the cheerful surrealists but the subreal species of a post-atomic landscape.
Zipp’s layering of original work on reproduced images engineers a confrontation between the present and past: the now of Zipp’s painting, the that-was-then of the photograph. He frequently reproduces images of domestic interiors after they have been abandoned or bombed – soot-covered bourgeois sitting rooms, offices strewn with papers and upturned chairs – and ‘decorates’ these rooms’ walls with his newly painted canvases. At the Berlin Biennial last year, Zipp papered a classroom in a former Jewish girls’ school – a building which hadn’t been opened since the Second World War – with large photocopies of other bombed rooms: a trompe l’oeil vision of the room’s own possible historic past. On top of the interior landscape he hung his own newly painted canvases, giving a vague sense of tragedy’s continued presence and one’s trespass through it.
Zipp, who is showing at the South London Gallery in November, has lately expanded the installation effect of his two-dimensional work into those incorporating objects which intrude palpably into the visitor’s space. In his 2006 exhibition at Alison Jacques in London a large black balloon was suspended from the ceiling, looking like the condensation of test-site residue. A dark pulpit in a 2005 show in Madrid presided over paintings of explosions and skeletons, sketching out a recurring history of hope, achievement and devastation.