Sunday, 13 June 2010


I kick off with three shows of abstract paintings, all of which feature combination of elements in one way or another, and follow that with representational cobinations: of times in Emma Bennett, of spaces in Shara Hughes, of other sculptures in Nick Hornby. Anton Henning, come to that, seems to several artists rolled into one... It's all very suited to the new coalition Government.

Virus Revamp

Michael Stubbs @ Laurent Delaye, First Floor, 11 Savile Row – Central
To 24 July:

Internationally-established abstract painter Michael Stubbs hadn’t exhibited much in Britain for a decade before recent London showings for his drawings and then his prints. Logically enough, we now see his main events. Stubbs uses graphic stencils, pours of household paint and tinted floor varnish to make multi-layered combinations of signs and veils. No brushes required! - though I did see what looked like a cheeky little bit of sponge-swirled paint in two recent works. The paintings are dynamised by two main strategies: first, exploiting the ambiguities between where the paint appears to be in pictorial logic, and where it is in the actual layering; and second, by teetering on the brink of getting too complicated. Obviously I think it does all gell successfully, including in one painting which throws in a mirrored surface for luck, or else I wouldn’t be recommending the show! Nice little catalogue, too, in which John Chilver writes of the 'heady collision of risk and style'.

Wall of Light Pale Yellow Pink

Sean Scully @ Timothy Taylor Gallery, 15 Carlos Place - Mayfair

To 3 July:

How much development is required to keep a practice fresh? My initial impression on walking into the latest continuation of Sean Scully’s long-running ‘Wall of Light’ series was: a little bit more than this. They’re still very beautiful, to be sure, but all eight grandly-sized oils still follow the established formula: translucent rectangular blocks of modest colours allow us to sense, and sometimes glimpse directly, a more vivid ground - which provides an inner, perhaps spiritual, glow. But only in the last couple of years has Scully painted on aluminium and alu-dibond (in which the metal is coated with a formica-like material). This gives the paintings an extra sheen and does more to emphasise small accidents, sub-shapes, and the individual strokes of what are often very large brushes. In ‘Wall of Light Pale Yellow Pink’ we also get a framing effect created by exposed aluminium. Enough, I think, for us to go on savouring Scully’s subtle structures and speculating on the emotional states underlying them without feeling we are mired in repetition.

Waiting for the Future

C Morey de Morand: Rewired @ Possin Gallery, Block K, 13 Bell Yard Mews (behind 175 Bermondsey Street) – London Bridge

To 26 June:

Collette Morey de Morand is exceptionally international: a Franco-Russian who studied in Canada and New Zealand before settling here in the 70’s - and painted some of these works during a residency in Berlin. She’ s one of several geometric abstractionists currently demonstrating that there’s a surprising amount of variety left in such an apparently narrow genre. Hans Hoffman, Bridget Riley and Patrick Caulfield are the most visible references in this extensive show, but Morey de Morand strikes a consciously anti-Mondrian stance – though he’s obviously in the mix – by choosing to work mainly with secondary colours. They’re fractured paintings of urban mood and personal history, teed up by titles which tend towards the mock-portentous (‘Truth is Permanent’, ‘Consolation for Our Mortality’), and which put together a wide mix of shapes and motifs both within and between paintings. I liked the rather neat use of carefully-delineated sections of bare canvas to suggest, perhaps, reluctant exposures of vulnerability; and found myself pleasurably drawn into the whole interplay of elements. The excellent catalogue helps, too.

For Want of Sleep

Emma Bennett: Death & Co. @ CHARLIE SMITH London, 336 Old St (above The Reliance) – Hoxton

To 3 July:

Emma Bennett’s new series of large paintings, show ships in dark waters, apparently sailing into the space of the canvas, their cargoes of fruit and flowers spilling overboard. Each provides a quadruple dose of visual seduction: a glowering lamp black void; realistic images sourced from Dutch golden age painting; an abstract expressionist intervention in furniture polish which also reads like a wave; and the striking effect of combining those three apparently disparate elements. That also brings together four different timescales in one image: the 17th century of the source paintings, the 20th century of the abstract gesture, the 21st century of their combination, the eternity of the void. Appropriately, then, the works are allusively titled from Hardy, Eliot, Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath, and Bennett sees the ships as representing individual journeys through life. All of which could be portentous, but ther is an easy humour, too, in the playing off of differing scales. All in all, these are probably the richest new paintings currently on view in London – but the beauty of them is that, although they may sound complicated, they are immediately and straightforwardly alluring.

See for my interview with Emma and essay on this show.

Choose Your Angle

Shara Hughes: Show Me, Because You Can’t See @ Museum 52, 52 Redchurch St – Shoreditch

To 30 June:

American painter Shara (say ‘sharer’) Hughes is an Atlantan who has suffered from labyrinthitis, which is a dizziness caused by inflamation of inner ear system responsible for balance. That makes one kind of sense of the hyperactive multiplicity of spaces, perspectives, textures, colours and references which come improbably together in her unreal interiors. It’s not a necessary explanation, though: Hughes says she started painting them 'because I needed my own space: the paintings are my home', and they work just fine as hurly-burly rooms brimming with content and an apparently naïve mania for pattern. Their motifs include oddly-placed patches of night sky; woodcut effects; fires; swimming pools; flying fragments; scissors; Pollock; Bacon; Bronzino; Matisse; and Shara’s splendidly-named dog, Chicken Nugget. The combinations are spontaneous and, hence perhaps, fresh. The book on the table in ‘Choose Your Angle’ is the wryly-titled ‘How To Control Almost Everything’: Hughes gets nowhere near that, but the work feels all the better for it.

'I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird'(Coco Chanel)

Nick Hornby: Atom vs. Super Subject @ Alexia Goethe Gallery, 7 Dover St - Central

To 9 July:

No, the author of ‘Fever Pitch’ and ‘About a Boy’ isn't a sculptor on the side. Rather, the other – younger – Nick Hornby has a solo debut in which he blends typically three sculptures (all in full and to scale) into one by virtualising a merger on computer, then turning the result into gleaming white marble resin. Hornby’s ‘trybrids’, to adopt the term in Ossian Ward’s catalogue essay, come in two strands which take advantage of Alexia Goethe’s contrasting spaces: relatively conservative combinations of portrait busts to make composite muses upstairs; and more radical mergers downstairs. For example, the headless body and legs from Rodin’s ‘Walking Man’, the full sweep of Brancusi's ‘Bird in Space’ (which one side-view ingeniously resembles) and the negative space from Hepworth's ‘Form III’ come together under a title which almost lists those components but is a quote from Coco Chanel: 'I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird'. Any number of associations can then be brought to the sculptural elements plus title quote. Is it that Rodin failed to value Camille Claudel as a sculptor rather than a mistress, Hepworth wasn’t given her deserved equal billing with Henry Moore in her lifetime, and Brancusi’s striving for the ideal form reminds us how art in practice falls short in such matters as equality - just as in everyday life, in which differential expectations about appearance and weight are flagged by Chanel’s quote? Perhaps, but Hornby – who chooses the components for their meaning as much as their form – says he is also interested in the origins of ideas, amateur genetics, the balance of the cooked and raw (he cites Levi-Strauss and the trickster tradition), the synthesis of genders, and more...

Anton Henning: MASTERdote AntiSINGER @ Haunch of Venison, 6 Burlington Gardens – Central

To 10 July:

If there’s an antidote to Wagnerian excess in Anton Henning’s group-like show, then it’s yet more excess as he takes Wagner’s notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art, to extremes. There’s room after room of the German’s characteristic environments, chockfull of psuedo-Impressionist-Cubist-Constructivist-Expressionist paintings-come-parodies-of-paintings in every genre; sculptures (some made of paintings); videos; furniture (some pretend, some lit from within); collages; drawings; kinetic work; painted windows etc etc, all in what might be termed the ‘good bad painting’ style which combines the knowingly slapdash with absurd subject matter. I particularly liked the super-vanitas-cliché whereby a set of double-sided paintings on a central axis are spun round by the action of fans so that we see skull and face successively and by way of bonus cool the viewer in the current hot weather. Overwhelming fun, then, but to what end? The press release says that Henning is pursuing ‘an anitidote to the norm’, which is ‘dependent on his ability to act in opposition to himself’. He has his own abstract theme-shape, the curlicue he calls a ‘Hennling’, which may represent how the path of artistic progress has turned into a wild loops which revisit everything but get nowhere. So this is probably meant to be an overblown and self-contradictory show which is part of its own problem – but it’s still easy to be… a fan.

Sam Plagerson's 'Natural Beauty', 'Blonde' + 'Denim Shirt'

New Symphony @ Simon Oldfield Gallery, First Floor, 9 Henrietta St – Covent Garden

To 17 July:

Simon Oldfield’s handily-located new space opens with some fizz by bringing together four interesting young sculptors. Tim Ellis, who also fares well in Saatchi’s recently-opened ‘Newspeak’, makes slippery assisted readymades in which it is difficult to be sure just what he has changed. Douglas White’s new work uses cacti as a found material as effectively as he has previously used burst tyres and tree roots. Katie Cuddon makes clay-based sculptures which seem to catch the formal residue of the body as affected by psychological and emotional states. Sam Plagerson follows up his stand-out work in Bloomberg New Contemporaries to riff on the way everything is converted to image in contemporary culture: he turns generic magazine-sourced pictures, cropped to form the modern equivalent of the classical fragment, back into perverse objects which actualise the distortions of media presentation. Overall, it’s a stimulating mini-survey.

Bruno Pacheco: Three Orange Trees, a Box and some Gloves @ Hollybush Gardens, Unit 2, BI House, 10-14 Hollybush Gardens – Bethnal Green

To 4 July:

Lisa Panting and Malin Ståhl’s gallery isn’t the easiest for the first timer to track down, as you have to ring up to the first floor of an unpromising-looking building of factory units and wait to be collected. But Lisbon/London based Bruno Pacheco’s oddly resonant paintings are worth a little effort - which you’ll also have to make inside, as he presents them in deadpan manner as objects of no more note than the architecture. ‘Opposite the three industrial windows there is a painting…’, says the press release, leaving you to make sense of the same orange tree shown three times in different light, an empty cakebox with abstract modernist tendencies, and a ‘black rectangular table, holding a sketchbook that contains 18 works painted in acylic on paper, portraying yellow household gloves’. Is that a fortnight of the artist’s washing up, or are the gloves there to pick the 18 oranges from the tree and put them in a cakebox?

Dan Peterman: Rathole

The Ground Around: Idylls, Earthworks and Thunderbolts @ Vilma Gold, 6 Minerva St – Cambridge Heath

To 11 July:

This impressive group show, curated by Charles Asprey, is themed around the artist’s drive to look and delve down – whether at the ground, under the world or just beneath the studio floor. The clear match between Paul Nash and Carol Rhodes is one highlight; likewise, and more surprisingly, that between Prunella Clough and Wolfgang Tillmans. The most striking installation is of objects found by Manfred Pernice: a large metal ocean bouy washed up in the gallery and an even heavier plant box complete with vegatation. But my favourite works are from the studio. Isa Genzken’s ‘Basic Research’ (1989) is – uncharacteristically – an oil painting, made by spreading a canvas on her studio floor and pressing down paint so that it picked up an impression of the rough surface and materials. The result looks equally like a microscopic view or an ariel map, and is in keeping with Genzken’s primary interest in acting as a receiver of the world. And environmentally concerned Chicago artist Dan Peterman has made casts ‘in concrete with incidental debris’ of rat burrows from underneath his working space, suggesting a comfortable acceptance of whatever might naturally undermine his working practices.

Hannah Starkey: Untitled

Tour Feature: People often ask me what I would recommend as an afternoon’s tour of current exhibitions. A stroll along Redchurch Street and hop to Bethnal Green is currently rewarding. Walking east, that would include Richard Slee’s witty ceramics @ Hales, Joby Williamson’s Post-It Note show @ Tintype, Shara Hughes’ packed spaces @ Museum 52 and the diverting group show ‘This is England’ at the new Aubin Gallery (64-66 Redchurch St). Then catch a bus to Hollybush Gardens for Bruno Pacheco and finish at Herald Street, notably for Hannah Starkey’s coolly-composed takes on seeing at Maureen Paley.

Still showing from previous lists:

Tacita Dean to 23 June, Marc Quinn to 26 June, You've Gone Too Far This Time to 25 June, Lisa Yuskavage to 26 June, Clay Ketter to 27 June, Shana Moulton to 3 July, Rana Begum to 3 July, Matias Faldbakken to 3 July, Anthony Caro to 6 July, Steve McQueen to 18 July. gives full address and opening time details of most shows


Gelitin @ Carlson: 22.6 - 15.7

Zhong Biao @ Olyvia Oriental: 23.6 - 3.9

Jane Bustin, Keven Finklea, Matt McGee & Estelle Thompson
@ Eagle Gallery 24.6 - 24.4

Pierre Soulages @ Bernard Jacobson: 24.6 - 1.9

Nothing is Forever @ South London Gallery: 24.6 - 5.9

Pavel Pepperstein @ Regina: 30.6 - 2.9

Straw Dogs @ Spring Projects: 24.6 - 30.7

Olga Chernysheva @ Calvert 22: 1.7 - 29.8

Liane Lang @ Squid & Tabernacle: 2.7 - 24.7

Tanabata (Japanese show) @ Maddox: 7.7 - 7.9

Photo credits: relevant artists and galleries

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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, Frieze, Photomonitor, Elephant and Border Crossings. I have curated 20 shows during 2013-17 with more on the way. Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.