Inkjet on watercolour paper
90 x 60 centimetres
Russell Hoban’s 1980 post apocalypse novel begins with Riddley, the story’s young protagonist, successfully hunting a wild boar. He fears the menace of feral dog packs and encounters groups of men unearthing machinery that is to be repurposed into crude tools. Entertainment is watching a Punch and Judy performance and smoking joints, the mystery of his fate is guided by the vision witnessed by St Eustace of the deer who presents the “Li’l Shynin’ Man”, a metaphor for the atom, between its antlers instead of the christian cross. The narrative which is told in a primitive broken English explains Riddley’s quest to fathom the cause of his miserable society’s cultural and technological breakdown.
While the novel presents some fascinating dystopian scenarios, the image of the work gangs foraging the incomprehensible detritus of their ancestors left the most vivid legacy when I read the book several decades ago. The 3D models of the men were fashioned with mixed racial characteristics in a nod to a possible future England which is where the book is set, unfortunately however, the final composition where two of the men are seen from behind made this a somewhat wasted effort. The man on the right has a logo on his sweater, Guy Montag, that suggests a long forgotten designer label but it’s the name of the principal character in the Ray Bradbury dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. Likewise the name Deckard stencilled on the oil drum is not an industrial firm but originates from Phillip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, a depiction of another science fiction dystopia.
The foreground landscape is textured to resemble the rubbish dumps that are peopled by scavengers in poor nations and the compositional colour palette is restrained to variations of rust, sombre blues and greys, symbolic of Riddley Walker's compromised world, the deer and its meagre hope of explanation being the exception. The "Li'l Shynin' Man" is a 3D artists mannequin that fortuitously bears a resemblance to those cheerful cartoon like figures once used to promote nuclear power when it was sold as the salvation for humanity's energy needs.