Art and Alcohol

As part of the BP spotlight exhibitions at the Tate Britain, London Art and Alcohol is one of the latest in the series. It shows how over centuries artists have depicted people and alcohol. The earliest piece was William Hogarth’s Gin Lane, 1751 which shows the drunkenness that ensued after the uncontrolled production of gin. The most recent piece by Richard Billingham in 1994 called Untitled from the series Ray’s a Laugh. The series depicts the life of Billingham’s parents and their relationship between them with his fathers chronic alcoholism.

The two main pieces in the exhibition are The Worship of Bacchus 1860-2 by George Cruikshank. This is a huge piece which depicts various effects that alcohol has on society. In the centre of the piece is Bacchus – the God of alcohol and around him is hundreds of people using alcohol and showing what it does. From the upper class toasting Champagne to orphaned children the piece has it all. I really liked it as you could keep coming back to it and find something new. It also showed alcohol in all its forms. The other piece is a more recent one entitled: Balls The Evening Before the Morning After – Drinking Sculpture 1972 by Gilbert and George. This is a series of photographs each getting progressively more blurry to show the effects of alcohol. I liked this piece as it didn’t paint alcohol a negative light, it just showed first hand what alcohol does to you. Interestingly it turns out neither one of them drank on the making of the piece and created the blurs in afterward. So it feels a little false to do it that way.

Throughout the near 20 pieces of art I noticed that nearly all had the same theme that alcohol is something negative. Particularly the idea that alcohol equals drunk and disorderly. I was slightly annoyed by this because alcohol is such an interesting thing, from the making of it to the actual drinking. The idea that the balancing of flavours to make great is thrown away and dismissed by artists feels wrong. I also started to wonder whether because we see alcohol shown in the media as way to get drunk that people think that is only what is good for. I do hope my project shows alcohol in a different way.

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