Wednesday, 7 September 2016

BELLA EASTON: THESE OUTER SHELLS


BELLA EASTON: THESE OUTER SHELLS

Gallery Elena Shchukina, 10 Lees Place, Mayfair (access from Shepherd's Place)

25 Aug - 16 Sept: http://galleryelenashchukina.com/

Evening opening with artist and curator: Wed 7 Sept, 6-9 pm

I'll also be there 5.00 - 5.30 on 25 Aug and 1.45 - 2.30 on 10 Sept




Caterpillar: The question you need is Who Are You?


Aly: Tell him he can see perfectly well who you are

Alice: You can see perfectly well who I am.

Caterpillar: But that’s not true, is it? These outer shells are only versions of ourselves...[i]


Bella Easton develops, replicates and reflects on apparently straightforward scenes from everyday life to generate a complex account of the multiple relationships and contradictions between inside and outside, natural and artificial, open and enclosed, chaos and order, uncanny and familiar, light and dark. In so doing, she takes her source material through a dizzying range of transformations to suggest the various selves that might be in play when we formulate our own identities.  
 
Identical Twins

Identical Twins, 2013 is an immersive landscape - of One Tree Hill in Honor Oak, near Easton's home in the south of London - that has been fragmented into 48 smaller elements. That arises from Easton’s characteristic hybrid technique of painting and printmaking. Here she has etched copper plates, printing each onto a single piece of paper, the inky marks from which are then offset onto a second piece of paper by running it through the press again – so producing its mirror counterpart. She has repeated this many times incorporating watercolour and graphite powder.  The Rorschach-like result is a coming-together that may look like one complete object or view, but is actually a doubling of two halves. The titles refers to the tendency of such mirroring to set up our natural potential to read faces into the image: that pareidolia emerges as skull-like forms here, and recurs across the related series of works. Those halves are often noticeably different, due to glitches and variations in depth of tone, completeness of impression, or sharpness of registration. Easton accepts and even encourages those chance effects by using the same source repeatedly – ‘murdering the copper plates’, as she puts it, ‘till you can’t get any more from them’. Her method, she says, ‘is a kind of controlled spontaneity which generates abstract effects on the figurative ground. Each section has its own personality, so that when the family of panels are spliced together, harmonies and dissonances arise’. Identical Twins, a one-off by the very nature of how it’s made, acted as the source image for the ‘Chiral’ (meaning ‘hand’ in Greek) series of etchings, drawings and paintings. 


From the Chiral etching series

Each of the Chiral etching series, 2014, selects a detailed sector of Identical Twins for further development, notably by adding watercolour layers to give greater depth and illusion of light, and by cutting in some elements and swapping them over. Hence what look like double moons, which cannot be mapped when superimposed over each other - like opposite hands, they have ‘chiral symmetry’. ‘Creating’, says Easton, ‘is a journey of complementary opposites. I employ actions that are contradicted or opposed until equilibrium is reached’.

Chiral I

These etchings initiated larger works in which selected motifs are reconfigured into immersively-scaled fabrications using a geometric framework: Chiral I, 2014, and Chiral II, 2015, onto 128 and 50 oil painted linen panels; Chiral VI, 2015, in graphite and coloured pencil on 50 paper panels. The process, as shown in the filmed documentation of the progress of Chiral I, scales up and mirrors the minutiae to an almost perverse extent. Each section is individually rendered by applying thin layers of oil paint over a long period of time. These paintings don’t use etching, but relate directly to the etched works as weight, pressure and touch are similarly employed to offset the oil painted and hand drawn marks from one panel to its counterpart, so creating a mirror image - the paint from each of the sections on the positive (left) side is squashed across onto the right.
Chiral VI

Chiral II adds an extra layer of illusion and depth of light by including the green tinge of a synthesized lens flare as if from off kilter photographic documentation. Again, the mirrored circles can read as eyes, but possibly more those of an insect:

Chiral II

.
A further step then sees Easton come inside: not to the studio - in line with the expected artistic tradition - but into her house, which has a distinctive mixture of Edwardian original features, silkscreened wallpaper by the artist, and Japanese decorative papers used to cover furnishings and fittings. At first it seems that Easton has transported the house, as an autobiographical account of her decorative taste, into the gallery. The Myriorama Room Series - Fireplace, Armchair and Lamp (all 2016, each made from 88 copper plate etchings) give context to what now seem to be windows letting onto landscapes. Yet closer examination reveals that those objects are not so straightforward: each are chiral versions of the same 44 parts twice – so, for example, we see two sets of bellows in the fireplace – or rather, the same pair of bellows twice. Each section is also printed twice with separate colours: first Indian Red, and then black. 


Fireplace

 And while the individual units which make up the chiral forms are mosaic-like squares, the totality of the images combine in a different way. Look at how the skirting boards and picture rail line up: a continuity and interchangeability is implied. We could move the depicted furniture around the room and maintain that. This, consistent with the era of the house’s contents, is a version of the parlour game Myriorama, in which imaginary landscapes could be made by reordering cards designed to ensure matching continuity of the horizontal markers of form.
Armchair

Is that all? No, the dialectic of inside-outside acquires another shift when we notice that there’s a mirror above the fireplace, and what we see in the mirror is Chiral VI. That hangs on the wall in Armchair, and Fireplace shows its reflection in a mirror – or, rather, half of that reflected image, doubled. Could the domestic intimacy get more fragmented, and the outside come in more complexly?




Lamp

Through all these transformations, Easton’s work picks up an aesthetic of its own, one which destroys colour and completeness of form to arrive at a washed out process-contingent amalgam of parts. The established romantic appeal of ruins is in the background as the chiral play, near-repetition and range of imperfections are displaced at first glance by a frisson of beauty. That’s only the surface, of course - we shouldn’t need the caterpillar or the artist to remind us of that - but we also know how disturbingly easy it is to slip into equating shell with content, beauty with virtue, appearance with underlying reality.

The construction of the self is also a matter of balancing the interplay of inside and outside. Using the suburban view out to stand in for society, one might draw a comparison with the ‘dialogical self’ propounded by Hubert Hermans. According to him, the self isn’t something internal in the mind, but combines internal and external dialogues so that a ‘society of the mind’ results. That is populated by a multiplicity of ‘self-positions’ that themselves inter-relate – with scope for internal conflict and development.  What Easton gives us is more a ‘society of the chiral’.  Can we ever truly know the inside of another person, whether dialogical or not? It’s an old philosophical conundrum. You can’t expect a painting to answer it, but Easton can be read as posing the question in a way which is true to its peculiar complexities.


Curated by Paul Carey-Kent 


Works in show:

Identical Twins, 2013 - 48 copper plate etchings printed onto watercolour and graphite on 400 gsm velin arches paper, 168 x 121cm

Chiral etching series I - VI, 2014 - hand coloured copper plate etchings on velin arches paper, 59 x 36cm, Edition 5

Chiral I, 2014 - Oil on 128 pieces of linen, 294 x 134cm

Chiral II, 2016 Oil on 50 pieces of linen, 200 x 80cm

Chiral VI, 2015 Graphite and coloured pencil on 50 pieces of paper, 150 x 72cm

Fireplace, Armchair and Lamp, 2016  each
88 copper plate etchings on 400 gsm velin arches paper in handmade Japanese paper frames, 97 x 110cm, Edition 10





[i] Moira Buffini in ‘Advice from a Caterpillar’ in ‘Alice in Wonder.land’, a version of Lewis Carroll’s classic tweaked for the digital age.

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About Me

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Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
I was in my leisure time Editor at Large of Art World magazine (which ran 2007-09)and now write freelance for such as Art Monthly, The Art Newspaper and Border Crossings. I have curated five shows in London during 2013-15 with more on the way.Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.

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