Beachcoma: Sam Thomas
Exhibition runs: Wednesday 30 October - Saturday 23 November 2013.
Although Brian Wilson, of Beach Boys fame, was a renowned American composer he had issues with the success and popularity of British bands in his own country. Perhaps this cross-Atlantic competition made Brian strive harder to produce hit music. When the Beatles released Sergeant Peppers to unheard of popular acclaim however, Brian could no longer cope and his internal rivalry caused him to shut himself off from the world. During this period Brian had a sandpit built inside his California mansion. Brian would spend whole days in this pit, building castles and drawing in the sand. It became a form of therapy for him; a safe place where he could discover the world anew.
Another of his therapies in this dark time was to visit his dental hygienist, Paula Magdalena. Paula describes Brian’s visits as difficult although dentally Brian was sound. Brian enjoyed the feeling of a professional reaching inside his head. Mechanically it made sense to him. Between mouthwashes and during Paula flossing him, Brian would explain in detail the contraptions he was designing and prototyping in his sandpit. Very hazy information is available on these objects through mostly from inaccurate artist’s impressions that accompanied an interview with Paula when she sold her story to a Californian tabloid. What is known about Brian’s prototypes however is that many of them were toys or games that Brian had imbedded with a moral or lesson that he had discovered ‘the hard way’.
Beachcoma is a series of new work by Auckland-based artist Sam Thomas. In it he explores the fictions surrounding Beach Boys impresario, Brian Wilson and his withdrawal from the music scene due to the onset of a number of mental health issues. Thomas spent part of this year participating in a residency at BCA Gallery in Rarotonga, and has incorporated certain elements of his experiences on the island in Beachcoma.
Thomas examines the idealised notion of escaping to a seemingly simple place – a location where there is more time, where levels of tolerance are higher and everyday pressures are reduced. He also touches on those groups who choose to visit the Pacific Islands, whether in a temporary mode, like the swathes of sun-seeking tourists who choose to spend parts of their winters on the beach, or more permanent visitors such as Christian missionaries who attempted, and were successful to some extent, in transplanting their culture into a new location.
Using materials native to the island; wood – as well as introduced; plastic and palmex thatching (an alternative to natural and more traditional palm-leaf thatching), Thomas’ objects and the greater installation evoke the metaphor of the ‘sandbox’ as a place of refuge and of trial and error; for theories and dogmas, as well as more tangible experiments like Wilson’s prototyped games.
The pseudo-kitsch beachcomber aesthetic that underlies much of the work hints at the move from avant-garde pop to a more nostalgic direction for the Beach Boys, which followed the move of their production studio into Wilson’s mansion. It is also possible to equate the demand for the Beach Boys’ formula of feel-good surf tunes to the easy consumption of commodified cultural objects by island tourists.