Billy Monk

Dewi Lewis Publishing 2011

Review for 1000 words – © David Moore 2012

In Lin Sampson’s romanticizing essay that introduces the publication of Billy Monk’s photographs, first exhibited in the UK at Brighton Biennale in 2011, we are offered a profile of the artist as renaissance figure; alternately a rough diamond, a lover, a crook, an unreconstructed intellectual, and of his mood swings, unpredictability and of his violence.

But there is no violence in this work, if there is, it remains in the shadows of Monk’s playground, The Catacombs Club, a dank nocturnal arena in late 1960’s Cape Town, a hellpot stew of escapist noir with bottles of Coke and bottles of rum scattered amongst other debris of the night.

Flash is key to this work as it summons up all variety of spectacle; sparking through the cavernous space revealing complex fragments of an exotic nether world and unexpected groupings of disparate individuals seeking company and solace.

Fresh faced Russian sailors, raging Medusa’s, siblings; a mother in law emerging from beneath the table, spirit-like, her daughter ignoring the sodden materfamilias in preference to clinging onto her composure for the benefit of the photographer. Later, mascared, lascivious and predatory twins eye Monk with apparent sexual interest, equally ready to kick his camera away in a second. Many of Monk’s players have the appearance of having wandered in from elsewhere, a Diane Arbus photograph maybe, after having already been accosted earlier in the day.

What amazes always, is the untrained eye. Richard Billingham’s original prints from ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ were small prints from Boots that he used to paint from, their lack of photographic design was extraordinary to see. This selection of Monk’s work has a similar singularity and an absolute knowing, and the emotional distance is considerable. Monk is clearly on his own turf.