Artist's wasp-y works take the sting out of death

·2-min read

Artist James Lemon makes ceramics inspired by insects, death and horrendously ugly people.

After inviting viewers to assume a bees-eye perspective at his Melbourne Now installation, Lemon's first Sydney show, Sphexishness, will examine death and decay through wasps and clay.

As visitors enter the exhibit they are surrounded by a forest of narrow plinths, upon which sits a series of ceramics coated in gleaming glazes that almost drip down the sides of the works.

The ones coated in a polished gold create a sense of opulence akin to the exceptionally ornamental and dramatic 18th century French art movement Rococo.

"I'm referencing the Rococo decadence - these kinds of horrendously ugly objects for horrendously ugly people," he told AAP.

Adding to the almost disgusting level of luxury, Lemon incorporates real gold into the glaze for maximum lustre.

"Gold has captured our attention for a millennia and there is no real substitute for it," he said.

"But if you need the cash, you could scratch it (the gold glaze) back."

As viewers weave between the delicately balanced works, they will recognise some natural textures such as termite hills and hives.

Throughout the exhibition, Lemon explores the behaviour of insects, specifically sphex wasps.

Part of the digger wasp family, sphex have a tendency to leave paralysed prey outside their nests before inspecting it. This creates an opportunity for their food to be stolen, which prompts the cycle to continue when they find new prey.

"Sphexishness" describes this mindless, routine behaviour.

"Catching prey, spinning webs, forming tunnels, building dirt cathedrals - for them, this behaviour is instinct," Lemon said.

"When I think about the process of making art, it's different for every artist but for me it's this same intuition.

"We've got thousands of years of history making pots and sculptures and bricks and objects that help us resist the brutality of nature. But then you have species like ants, wasps and termites that have been doing this for a very long time."

Some of the pieces are clear symbols of death like tombs, grave markers, and urns that Lemon has doused in several layers of cracked glaze.

Others tackle ideas of decay with a sense of humour.

At hip-level sits a gleaming gold blob with just enough muzzle for viewers to tell it's a dog.

The piece, named Fat Old Beatrix, pays homage to Lemon's 10-year-old jack russell mix which accompanies him to the studio every day.

"You can get stuck into the bleak side of things, but this is really actually celebratory. It's about witnessing and celebrating life and all its variations," Lemon said.

Sullivan + Strumpf Sydney will host a public opening for Sphexishness on Friday and exhibit the works until June 3.