We have all grown up in awe of the imposing scale, magnificence and ferociousness of dinosaurs. However, what is it about these huge prehistoric reptiles, which first appeared 251 million years ago, that both fascinates and terrifies us at the same time? This very question is explored by The Connor Brothers in their new show at Maddox Gallery ‘Once Were Kings’, portraying how our obsession with dinosaurs - from childhood to adulthood - might be more self-reflective and thought-provoking than we think.
Once Were Kings
The pseudonym for British artists James Golding and Mike Snelle, The Connor Brothers came to prominence in 2012 and maintained their anonymity by using a fictional biography for several years. Best known for their Pulp Fiction series, they are also known for their activist work - they worked for several years in The Jungle refugee camp in Calais building shelters and undertook an international billboard campaign named Refuchic, highlighting the plight of displaced people - their playful hoaxes, and an obsession with truth and fiction. All of which are more relevant than ever in the current climate of fake news, post-truth, and social media obsession…
In 2014 their identities were revealed in a major feature by Mick Brown in The Telegraph magazine, enabling them to branch out to more ambitious projects, such as a 2015 refugee themed theatrical performance at Banksy’s Dismaland, and more recently they teamed up with Professor Green and mental health charity CALM to raise funds and awareness about the UK’s epidemic of male depression and suicide.
The Connor Brothers
In their latest show at Maddox Gallery, a development of their much sought after Regression Series, dinosaurs are at the core of the rawness of the paintings.
“Being modern, we’re not averse to a bit of therapy - me so I don’t take crack any more and Mike so he doesn’t go all mental,” admits James. “In lockdown during the Covid19 pandemic, we tried a bit of art therapy. Over zoom a very kindly woman called Heather from San Francisco told us to make a 60 second drawing without overthinking it or trying to make it good - just whatever came to mind. When she asked us to reveal our drawings to each other, we’d both drawn dinosaurs.”
When asked what the exhibition is about, The Connor Brothers will tell you they “just fucking love dinosaurs”, but in reality, their and our endless fascination with dinosaurs actually exposes our deepest fear, that each of us will ourselves die and become extinct, and that as a species we are heading for the same fate as our prehistoric ancestors.
“When Heather asked why we thought we’d drawn them, we replied that we just loved dinosaurs. Not satisfied with our answer, she asked us to think a bit more about it,” James explains. “The truth is, dinosaurs are scary and amazing, and dead. They feel like monsters from our subconscious or visions from our childhood imagination, and in a way, there are very real monsters in our subconscious - childhood memories that haunt us, crippling anxieties, addictions, depression, loneliness, fear of failure, shame… all that fun.”
The exhibition’s title is multi-layered, on the surface referring to the time that dinosaurs ruled the earth, but also reminding us that all empires come to an end - especially poignant considering the urgency of the existential challenges facing mankind today. But as well as speaking to our shared fears as a species, the dinosaur paintings touch on personal themes from The Connor Brothers’ past - such as addiction and mental health - as well as the ghosts of past mistakes and childhood memories, which we can all relate to in some capacity.
“Maybe the dinosaurs we drew stood for all the things within ourselves that we were too afraid to confront,” reflects James. “They were the monsters inside us fighting to get out. Maybe we’ve all got dinosaurs inside us, and that’s kind of what this show is about - the dinosaurs within. It’s not very cheery, so apologies, dinosaurs are without doubt the largest, fiercest and most magnificent creatures ever to walk the earth. They ruled the earth for hundreds of millions of years, then they were gone forever, extinct. And if that could happen to them, it could, and inevitably will, happen to us. The difference with them is that they didn’t do it to themselves.”
The Devil You Know
Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction
Somehow, despite the ominous undertone, the paintings maintain a sense of the majesty of dinosaurs and their nobility as the most fearsome and extraordinary living creatures ever to have graced the planet. But one thing’s for sure, it’s an important wake-up call that we should acknowledge, not ignore, the dinosaurs within us, and that even the most powerful species can be dethroned…
Curious about art? Read more about art at Maddox Gallery.
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