IN A MOONAGE DAYDREAM
       
     
MARS STARS
       
     
Rogue Royal
       
     
Grand Auto
       
     
Power Funk Machine
       
     
Bebop Boom
       
     
With Avenue
       
     
Civil War
       
     
Mount Triumph
       
     
Modern Love
       
     
Rebel Rebel
       
     
IN A MOONAGE DAYDREAM
       
     
IN A MOONAGE DAYDREAM

Johnny Romeo

IN A MOONAGE DAYDREAM

New Paintings

Internationally acclaimed Australian Pop painter Johnny Romeo skyrockets back to New Zealand with his electrifying series, IN A MOONAGE DAYDREAM. The dynamic collection of new works marks Romeo’s thrilling return to New Zealand following his critically renowned and sold-out exhibition ‘The Arthouse Series’ at Auckland’s 12 Gallery in 2017. Brimming with larger-than-life colour arrangements and bombastic, tongue-in-cheek imagery, the series vibrantly celebrates the pioneers and radicals who push the limits of what is possible, and dare to dream. IN A MOONAGE DAYDREAM is a visual feast for the senses that sees Australia’s leading Pop artist and culture jammer take his inimitable Kitsch Pop style to cosmic new heights as he explores what it means to make dreams a reality.

The moon plays a central role within the series, acting as an elevated visual symbol that signals a time for dreaming. As the only celestial body outside of Earth that humanity has been able to walk on, the moon acts as a conceptual focal point for the series, highlighting the power of aiming heavenwards and overcoming adversity to achieve the impossible. Johnny Romeo cleverly acknowledges the significance of the moon by opening the exhibition on Friday 21 June, the date of the Winter Solstice in the Southern hemisphere. Known for the being the longest night of the year, Romeo has used this opportunity to allow his audiences to dream a little longer in their own moonage reverie.

For Johnny Romeo, the ‘moonage daydream’ is a state of mind, a space for electrified, far-out ideas where visionaries courageously carve their own paths through the exhilarating terrain of the unknown. The series is filled to the brim with allusions to speed, space and elevation, as Pop culture and historical luminaries are ingeniously transformed into pioneering early 20th Century aviators, rambunctious racecar prodigies and galactic emperors. In Romeo’s Technicolour daydream, speed and movement are king, acting as potent symbols for ambition, where boundaries and limitations are gleefully ruptured in a haze of smoke, screeching tyres, and rocket fuel.

This sense of triumph and perpetual forward motion is captured with undeniable flair in the series, with Johnny Romeo delivering some his most brash and confident works to date. Concentrated bursts of colour explode off the canvass with the sugary rush of a psychedelic fever dream, imbuing the works with a trippy effervescence that evokes fantasies of neon-drenched lunar landscapes. Dripping with an undeniable swagger, Romeo’s latest collection of paintings possess an invigorating graphic gusto that visually distills the fierce ambition and fiery bravado of stars and trailblazers hell-bent on glory.

An eclectic array of musical and cultural references abound throughout IN A MOONAGE DAYDREAM. The series draws its title from ‘Moonage Daydream’, a lesser-known cut from David Bowie’s classic 1972 album ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust’. Inspired by the song’s absurdist space age

lyricism and diverse instrumental palette, the artist gleefully mashes together diverse references ranging from bebop jazz and classic rock, to classic sci-fi, American gothic literature and Japanese anime, and reconfigures them into deliciously warped Neo-Expressionist Pop visions. Romeo injects each painting with his signature blend of offbeat humour and razor-sharp wit, masterfully fusing imagery and word assemblages to conjure the sensory overload of acid-soaked lucid dreams.

IN A MOONAGE DAYDREAM is a thrilling homage to the radicals and adventurers who fearlessly push the boundaries, reach for the stars, and dare to dream. Fusing psychedelic fields of colour, brash imagery and delightfully absurdist humour with a need for speed, Australia’s King of Pop has crafted a scintillating Kitsch-Pop experience that transports audiences across the candy-coated expanses of the Pop universe and invites them to get lost in their own moonage daydream.


MARS STARS
       
     
MARS STARS

122 cm x 122 cm, 2019, Acrylic on Canvas - SOLD

David Bowie was an artist obsessed with outer space, at one point going so far as to transform himself into a flame-haired, extraterrestrial rock star as Ziggy Stardust. Mars Stars is a Technicolour Pop homage to David Bowie and his fascination with cosmic imagery that transforms Pop’s very own ‘Starman’ into an astronaut. Depicted with half a helmet, a motif that echoes the artwork to Andrew McMahon’s 2017 indie pop album ‘Zombies Over Broadway’, Romeo’s space-age rendition of the Pop icon captures the ‘half man/half alien’ duality explored in the 1976 British sci-fi film ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’, which starred Bowie as alien Thomas Jerome Newton. A look through the outsider Pop icon’s back catalogue reveals his love for science fiction and alien life forms on classic songs such as ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Star Man’ and ’Life On Mars’, which is pithily captured in the word assemblage ‘Space Show’. The number 77 on the helmet and the subtle omission of the letter ‘L’ tips its hat to one of Bowie’s most beloved albums, ‘Low’, which was released in 1977. Music pulled from the film soundtrack to ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ came to form the foundations of what became the ‘Low’ album. Romeo wraps up his celestial celebration of Bowie with the title ‘Mars Stars’, an allusion to both Bowie’s space rock odyssey ‘Life On Mars?’ and his posthumous final release ‘Blackstar’ (2016). The painting seeks to answer one of Bowie’s longstanding questions: is there life on Mars? Evidently there is life, and it is none other than Pop’s very own Blackstar, David Bowie himself.


Rogue Royal
       
     
Rogue Royal

101 cm x 101 cm, 2019, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas - SOLD

In a galaxy far, far away, the Empire has risen victorious with the Republic surrendering not to the might of the Death Star, but to the power of pop music. In the gloriously kitsch Rogue Royal, Johnny Romeo transforms Darth Vader into a moustachioed, microphone-wielding portrait of Queen’s Freddie Mercury as the Galactic Pop Emperor. Colours bounce off the canvass with a sugar rush intensity, evoking the larger-than-life Pop slickness of Queen anthems such as 1984’s ‘Radio Gaga’. Romeo cheekily alters the title of the popular Queen single, with its references to the rise of music television and the glory days of radio, to create the word assemblage ‘Radio Galaxy’, a potent textual celebration of the universal appeal of Freddie Mercury and Queen’s music. A master of wordplay and visual puns, Romeo uses the word ‘Royal’ in the title to cheekily play off the regal connotations connected to the Queen and Darth Vader as leader of the Empire. The reference to ‘royal’ also imbues the bubblegum fun vibe of the painting with a dark undertone through its connection to Nirvana’s song ‘Pennyroyal Tea’, taken from their 1994 grunge opus ‘In Utero’. Kurt Cobain infamously mentioned Freddie Mercury in his suicide note, noting that the manic roar of a rapturous crowd did not affect him in the way that it did with Queen’s charismatic frontman, who revelled in the adoration of his fans.


Grand Auto
       
     
Grand Auto

101 cm x 101 cm, 2019, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas - SOLD

Bruce McLaren lived his life for speed. A race car driver, designer, engineer and inventor, McLaren was a legend of the racing world, winning his first Formula One race at the age of 22, twelve World Driver’s Championships, and eight World Constructor’s Championships before his untimely death in a race in 1970, aged 32. Auto Grand pays homage to the life and legacy of McLaren, re-envisioning the racing great as the popular Japanese anime cartoon character Speed Racer. Much like McLaren, Speed Racer was a precocious young driver known for his love of racing and ambition to be the world’s best racecar champion with his trusty Mach 5. Romeo’s rendition of McLaren bristles with a fiery determination, his gaze unwavering underneath Speed Racer’s iconic white open-face helmet. The letter ‘M’ emblazoned on the helmet, standing for ‘Mifune Motors’ in the original Speed Racer manga, doubles as a reference to McLaren in the painting. Immortalised today through the McLaren Formula One Team he founded, Bruce McLaren was both a speed racer and Speed Chaser in the truest sense of the words, a point captured in the work’s word assemblage. The exhilaration and danger of living life in the fast lane is further evoked in the painting’s title Auto Grand, a cheeky take on the popular Rock Star gaming franchise Grand Theft Auto.


Power Funk Machine
       
     
Power Funk Machine

153 cm x 153 cm, 2019, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas - SOLD

Few musicians in the world of Pop music soared as high or were as singular in their talent and vision as Prince. In Power Funk Machine, Johnny Romeo draws on his penchant for savvy musical references and humorous visual puns to transform Prince into an early 20th Century aviator carving a path through the Technicolour Pop skyline as his aerial scarf billows in the wind. A cheeky appropriation of the album cover for iconic jazz pianist Thelonius Monk’s ‘The Solo Monk’ (1965), the painting establishes a fascinating connection between Monk and Prince as two pioneers of African-American culture who dared to dream, and in the process transformed the musical landscape. The word assemblage ‘Sony Express’ playfully riffs on the Pony Express, a mail service delivering newspapers and mail via horse mounted riders between Missouri and California from 1860 to 1861. Romeo slyly drags this obscure reference into the modern day music industry, highlighting Sony’s recent role in delivering Prince’s music to the world as the owner of the artist’s musical estate following the pop star’s death in 2016. Brimming with bubble-gum rich hues and bold, rhythmic energy, Power Funk Machine is a potent celebration of Prince’s work whose title is laden with references to the performer’s music. ‘Power’ subtly tips its hat to Prince’s band, the New Power Generation, while ‘Funk Machine’ was the first song ever written by Prince.


Bebop Boom
       
     
Bebop Boom

101 cm x 101 cm, 2019, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas - SOLD

Politics is a ruthless game. It takes vision and bravado to rise above the noise and lead the free world. Bill Clinton remains one of the most popular US presidents of recent memory, a towering figure in American politics who introduced sweeping economic and welfare reforms and weathered high-profile political controversy. In Bebop Boom 63, Johnny Romeo re-envisions Clinton as the quintessential political maverick in a powerful work that recalls Alberto Korda’s iconic ‘Guerrillero Heroico’ photograph of Che Guevara and Shepard Fairey’s Obama election posters. With Clinton’s Guevara-esque Cuban cigar, black suit and assertive gaze, there is an undeniably masculine feel to the work that reflects politics’ reputation as an old boys’ club. Romeo cheekily reinforces this point in the word assemblage Boy’s Nation, a reference to the prestigious camp for future American leaders that Bill Clinton famously attended in 1963. At the camp, Bill Clinton met his hero John F Kennedy and shook his hand, an experience that galvanised the then young Clinton’s dream to one day become the president of the United States. The word assemblage, with it’s omission of the phrase ‘One Nation’, also cleverly plays off another type of Clinton and united states - Funkadelic’s George Clinton and his funk anthem ‘One Nation Under a Groove’. Romeo’s penchant for sharp, tongue-in-cheek music references is further demonstrated in the title ‘Bebop Boom’ 63, a sly nod to bebop jazz legend John Coltrane, who Bill Clinton idolised as a budding saxophonist. The titular ‘boom’ acts as both a continuation of the jazz theme, and a recognition of Clinton’s status as the first president of the baby boomer generation.


With Avenue
       
     
With Avenue

122 cm x 122 cm, 2019, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas - Available

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For many, Audrey Hepburn embodies the poise and grace of vintage Hollywood. In Fifth Avenue, the designer couture and waifish charm of Hepburn’s classic ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ is traded in for a more understated elegance, as Hepburn is transformed into an old-time aviator, replete with pilot goggles and a discrete turtleneck. Evoking the adventurous spirit of pioneering female pilots such as Amelia Earhart and Bessie Coleman, Romeo’s portrait of Hepburn sees her as an explorer of new paths carving her way through uncharted skies. A renowned actress and humanitarian, Hepburn was a woman ahead of her time who spoke six languages and helped to pave the way for many female actors that came in her wake. The word assemblage ‘Enchanted Royale’ is cheekily infused with a number of allusions to Hepburn’s illustrious career. These include references to the spoken word album ‘Audrey Hepburn’s Enchanted Tales’ (1992) for which she was awarded a Grammy in 1994, to the word ‘royale’, and her leading role as a princess in the classic 1953 romantic comedy ‘Roman Holiday’. Continuing the regal theme, Romeo’s intentionally European spelling of ‘royale’ nods to Hepburn’s own royal family history as the daughter of Dutch noblewoman Baroness Ella van Heemstra. Moreover, ‘royale’ reflects Hepburn’s status as a timeless fashion icon, with critics declaring that ‘her style alone could carry the film’ for her performance in the film ‘Sabrina’ (1954). Romeo makes a final tip of the hat to Hepburn’s career in the title ‘Fifth Avenue’, the location of the very Tiffany’s that made the actress a star as the naive, eccentric cafe society girl Holly Golightly in 1961’s classic ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’.

Civil War
       
     
Civil War

101 cm x 101 cm, 2019, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas - SOLD

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Comic book imagery and surreal humour have long played a role in Johnny Romeo’s work. With Civil War, Romeo pushes both elements to their hilariously absurd limits, depicting Captain America as a spandex clad ape. The transformation of America’s leading superhero into an ape raises a central question in the work: could an ape actually be a superhero? Romeo continues this hilariously offbeat exploration of apes and superheroes in the text passage ‘Ape Fear’, a pithy pun on the 1991 Martin-Scorsese directed crime-thriller ‘Cape Fear’. The subtle play on words highlights the key existential anxiety of the Planet of the Apes film franchise, namely who should rule the earth, ape or man? ‘Cape Fear’, on the other hand, examines the role that capes play in superhero costumes. Capes worn by superheroes such as Superman, Batman and Thor engender a certain fear and awe that signal them as beyond human and godly. In contrast, Captain America is a cape-less crusader who refuses to see himself as a godlike saviour of mankind, instead binding himself to his duty to his fellow man. The theme of heroic obligation is further explored in the work’s title Civil War which shares its name with the third instalment of Marvel’s Avengers film series. In the film, there is a dispute between whether superheroes should remain free to defend humanity without government interference, leading to an internal conflict between two factions of the Avengers, led by Captain America and Iron Man. Romeo ingeniously flips this battle between superheroes into a battle between cultural icons, commenting on the way in which Captain America replaced Superman as the quintessential superhero icon of the United States.

Mount Triumph
       
     
Mount Triumph

122 cm x 122 cm, 2019, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas -SOLD

No character in the history of popular television has quite epitomised cool as much as The Fonz, played by Henry Winkler, from the beloved American 1970’s sitcom Happy Days. In Mount Triumph, Johnny Romeo playfully toys around with The Fonz’s über cool status, mashing him together with the historical snowman, Sir Edmund Hillary. Born in New Zealand in 1919, Sir Hillary, together with sherpa Tenzing Norgay, became the first mountaineer to reach the peak of the world’s tallest mountain, Mt Everest. The painting depicts Hillary as the consummate greaser, decked out with well-coiffed hair and the white shirt and leather jacket look that made Fonzie a household name as he gives the audience a thumbs up, a reference to the character’s iconic ‘Eyyyy’ catchphrase. Romeo gives a nod to another of The Fonz’s signature catchphrases, ‘WHOA’, which he slickly adapts to create the word assemblage ‘Snowman’, in reference to Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s reported sightings of large footprints while scaling Mt Everest. Believed to belong to the legendary beast of the Himalayas, the Yeti, the footprint sightings marked the beginning of the Abominable Snowman craze in the West. The celebratory spirit of the work’s title ‘Mount Triumph’ acts as a poignant homage to the intrepid spirit demonstrated by Hillary and Norgay in conquering Everest. Savvy Pop culture enthusiasts, however, will note that the titular ‘Triumph’ is a coy reference to the 1949 Triumph Trophy TR5 Scrambler Custom, one of the several bikes ridden by the Fonz during Happy Day’s airtime 1970s and early 80s.

Modern Love
       
     
Modern Love

122 cm x 122 cm, 2019, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas - Available

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A recurring motif throughout many of his most iconic works, Picasso’s use of the bull has been interpreted in a number of different ways - as a representation of the Spanish people, a brutal spectre of fascism, a symbol of virility, and as a reflection of the artist himself. In Modern Love, Johnny Romeo cleverly transforms the renowned painter into one of the world’s most well-known bulls, Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls. Eschewing the painting studio for the basketball court, Romeo’s Pop-inflected rendition of Picasso re-envisions the iconic artist as a street-hardened basketball legend decked out in Jordan’s iconic 23 Bulls jersey. The number 23 hilariously links Michael Jordan to Picasso, whose official baptised name absurdly consisted of 23 names, and informs the title of the work Modern Love. ‘Pablo Picasso’ is the second track off David Bowie’s 23rd studio album ‘Reality’, and was originally released by English new-wave romantics the Modern Lovers. Astute observers will notice that the painting’s bold declaration of ‘Dreamer’s Team’, itself a cheeky reference to the 1982 Olympic Men’s Basketball team, obscures the words ‘Dreamer’s Dream.’ A master of weaving together often incongruous Pop culture references, the phrase sees Romeo gleefully culture jam lyrics from Oasis’ 1996 Britpop anthem ‘Champagne Supernova’ (‘a dreamer dreams she never dies’) with the poetry of gothic laureate Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote his poem ‘A Dream Within A Dream’ in 1849. ‘Champagne Supernova’s’ euphoric refrain of ‘where were you when we were getting high?’ caps the painting off on a nostalgic note. Picasso gazes longingly towards the audience as if to ask ‘where were you when we were flying through the air’, a subtle nod to Michael Jordan’s famous, gravity-defying slam dunks.

Rebel Rebel
       
     
Rebel Rebel

101 cm x 101 cm, 2019, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas - Available

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The ultimate rebel without a cause, James Dean was immortalised in Pop culture as the poster boy for teenage disillusionment and youthful defiance. Alice Cooper’s anti-authoritarian shock rock struck a similar chord, becoming the soundtrack for restless suburban kids looking for a release through the rousing rabble of rock’n’roll. Johnny Romeo ingeniously mashes together the effortless cool of Dean with the camp, horror theatrics of Alice Cooper in a meeting of two rebellious icons delightfully titled Rebel Rebel. The painting depicts a well-coiffed James Dean decked out in Alice Cooper’s iconic face make-up, imbuing Dean’s youthful features with a mischievous punk energy that recalls ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and the proto-punk grit of David Bowie’s 1974 glam-rock anthem, ‘Rebel Rebel’. A master of spirited wordplay, Romeo uses the text assemblage ‘Star On Vine’ as a reference to Vine Street, the location of James Dean’s star in Hollywood. Closer inspection of the letters scratched out in the painting reveals the phrase ‘Stars Entwine’, a cheeky nod to the artist’s masterful culture-jam of James Dean and Alice Cooper.