Whether you adore or despise his work, John Waters and his trademark pencil moustache are impossible to ignore. For five decades, the 69-year-old Pope of Trash has lampooned the movie industry in all its bogus glamour and glory. Now, the divisive American artist is bringing Hollywood to London in the form of ‘Beverly Hills John’, opening today at Sprüth Magers.
In the main gallery, the artist dons a Jocelyn Wildenstein-esque persona in the show’s namesake work, sporting gravity-defying cheeks, comically monstrous lips, and eyebrows that reach far too high up an impossibly flawless forehead. Justin Bieber and Hollywood’s leading pooch, Lassie, undergo the knife - or Photoshop’s Liquify tool in this case - receiving similarly grotesque makeovers.
Nearby, Princess Diana is flanked by the likes of divas Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse in ‘Shoulda!’ and another recent work depicts the wildly popular, former American president John F Kennedy and his wife, Jaqueline Onassis, descending from Air Force One. Death, however, looms large as the Grim Reaper from Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 drama-fantasy film The Seventh Seal casts a sinister pall over the presidential couple.
Waters isn’t without nostalgia, as evidenced in a surprisingly touching tribute to Federico Fellini in the form of an eight-and-a-half foot recreation of a ruler he has kept since Fellini’s film by the same name first screened in Baltimore. (‘Movies used to matter,’ he says).
Other highlights include his ‘Library Science 1-10’ series, in which Waters juxtaposes highbrow literature titles with their pornographic counterparts (it doesn’t get better than Clitty Clitty Bang Bang, he explains), and ‘Cancel Ansel’, where various Ansel Adams images are corrupted by humourous anomalies.
Even his own work isn’t safe from parody: his cult 1972 film Pink Flamingos goes from X-rated to G-rated in a new, 74-minute video, Kiddie Flamingos (2015); here, Waters has re-imagined the original as a table reading with an all-kid cast (Babs Johnson’s mini-me is particularly endearing in the remake).
But it’s all in affectionate jest. Waters injects his subjects with a dose of authenticity they so sorely lack behind their glossy veneers and artificial charm – something even the finest plastic surgeons in showbiz have failed to do.