Just Stop Oil and Ferrari | Deep Focus

Just Stop Oil's attack on the London Ferrari showroom has overtones of Abstract Expressionism in this interesting snapshot.

Just Stop Oil Ferrari

Just Stop Oil have vandalised paintings, buildings, and waxworks in a spate of attacks in recent weeks. In this instalment of Deep Focus, Mae Lossaso contrasts the dripping orange paint on London’s Ferrari showroom with the Abstract Expressionists of the late 1940s.

Above: LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 26: A man walks past the Ferrari store following the spillage of an orange substance Just Stop Oil demonstrators in Berkeley Square, on October 26, 2022, in London, England. The protest group has organised a wave of similar actions across London recently. (Photo by Isabel Infantes/Getty Images)

When Abstract Expressionists started throwing paint at canvasses in the late 1940s, part of the experiment was to see how the pigment dripped. Sure, the moment of impact was critical – but so, too, were the aftereffects: those chance patterns that wet paint makes as it bleeds, dibbles, spits, and splatters. Abstract Expressionism was rebellious, rule-breaking, and era-defining – but for all the macho energy associated with it, the style was as much about the silent traces left behind as it was about the moment of impact.

It’s impossible to look at Isabel Infantes’ image of the Just Stop Oil demonstration at the Ferrari store without thinking about Abstract Expressionism. Squint, and you could almost be looking at Grace Hartigan’s 1958 painting ‘Ireland’: the fluffy, haphazard clouds of orange paint bleeding into the smokey, purplish glass of the Ferrari storefront, which, in turn, oozes into the lighter grey of the pavement. One can pick out even the rich blue tones of the man’s suit in the bottom left of Hartigan’s painting.

hartigan irlanda guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York)

Situated in Berkeley Square in Mayfair, the location of the Ferrari store is significant– and not just because it’s in one of London’s most affluent areas. It also happens to be just a stone’s throw away from the Gagosian Gallery, which has mounted countless exhibitions of Abstract Expressionists since it opened in 2000 (including a high-profile retrospective of Hartigan’s friend and the painter Helen Frankenthaler in 2021).

This may account for why the drips of bright, pumpkin-coloured paint don’t look altogether out of place on the facade of the Ferrari store. This could almost be the brand’s latest advertising campaign: a Halloween stunt staged in Ferrari’s Rosso Dino shade to reel in some art world clientele (the glamorous couple who’ve just been ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the Mark Grotjahn exhibition at the Gagosian, perhaps?).

And it wouldn’t be anything new. Almost since its inception, Abstract Expressionism has preyed on corporate interests. In 1958, Mark Rothko was commissioned by the Seagram building to design a set of abstract wall hangings for their Four Seasons restaurant. In the end, his works were rejected for being too sultry. Tate Modern got the complete, moody set, which you can see for free in their permanent collection.

The mastery of this photograph lies in the way that Infantes makes faceless corporate capitalism manifest in the figure of the suited man. Rushing past, his head is turned away to make him literally faceless, while his Apple Watch and AirPods signal his commitment to the Silicon Valley cause. Lots of us own Apple products and walk to work in suits, of course – but that doesn’t stop the symbolism from doing its job in this photo.

Mark Grotjahn Backcountry

Mark Grotjahn Untitled (Backcountry Capri), 2021

But we’re left with a question: what is this man’s reaction to Just Stop Oil and their paint-hurling protests? Does he look on in disgust, appalled that anyone would commit such a wanton act of vandalism? Or has the paint left its silent trace? Will the image of orange haunt him through the day as he sits at his desk? The photo’s secret remains, but one thing is sure: the rebellious act has made its mark.

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