Oli Epp @ Carl Kostyál

Several futuristic super-villains are lurking on the wooden walls of Carl Kostyál’s Savile Rowe gallery. One such character is presented in the sale room of an auction house. He wears a t-shirt covered in David Hockney’s Splash, waving a paddle in front of a Damien Hirst spot painting. He seems totally legitimate at first, but then our eye is drawn to one of his eyes, which is covered by an eyepatch, making him seem somewhat sinister. Meanwhile, a fluffy pink cat rests on his lap, staring menacingly at the viewer, causing them to think that maybe their suspicions about his owner might be true. On the adjacent wall, another figure ducks over and under a laser grid as she steals a nugget of gold, dressed completely in black with a balaclava covering her face. And, while her whole theft operation should appear ominous, she sticks her tongue out as she makes her great escape, adding a light touch to her very serious crime. These paintings are part of a new series – which mix humour with excess – by Oli Epp in London.  

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Installation View, Oli Epp: Oxymoron. Image courtesy Carl Kostyál Gallery

Epp succeeds in bringing the fun factor, even in situations that really aren’t that funny at all. In Divorce Cake (2019) for example, Epp depicts a chef in front of a tiered chocolate cake that reads “Happy Divorce.” The bride and groom stand on separate levels, while the chef’s kitchen is covered in chocolate stains – which could easily be mistaken for something else – and a single gold ring has been flung into the far corner of the room. But, while the painting should be overwhelmingly sad, it isn’t. The bride, striding away from the top of her groom is triumphant. But really, it’s not so much about the separated couple at all, but the overbearing chef standing behind them. With a cheeky smile, he grins in the background, with pieces of chocolate smeared all over his pure-white teeth. 

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Installation View, Oli Epp: Oxymoron. Image courtesy Carl Kostyál Gallery

The smile of the divorce cake’s chef is something that carries through Epp’s paintings. In Evol Love (2019), two venus fly traps grin menacingly at one another, with that grin turning into the lips of a feasting figure in Vegan (2019), as a bearded character lurches towards a plate of tofu and asparagus.  

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Installation View, Oli Epp: Oxymoron. Image courtesy Carl Kostyál Gallery

In Aphrodisiac (2019), a curvaceous nude figure reclines against a blue backdrop. With a playboy bunny tattoo and flowing red hair, she recalls a Jessica Rabbit pin-up model. But it is just like an oxymoron, something that should be one way, but isn’t all as it might seem. Despite her shiny red stilettos, the ease in which this figure is serving her body on what looks like a stage (we can see the reflection of spotlights in the background), makes the viewer feel a little uneasy. As a testament to this, half eaten chocolate dipped strawberries are covered in flies, while a cherry is missing from a pile of whipped cream that rests on top of her bust. 

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Installation View, Oli Epp: Oxymoron. Image courtesy Carl Kostyál Gallery

Acting as oxymorons, Epp’s paintings blend together contradictory scenarios. From likeable villains to triumphant divorcees, his work inserts humour into typically un-amusing situations. Like a body-distorting mirror, his paintings invite us to see the lighter side of darker situations.


Oli Epp: Oxymoron is on display at Carl Kostyál, 12a Savile Rowe, London W1S 3PQ until 28 January 2020

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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