Sunday, 15 November 2015




52 Whitbread Road, Brockley, London SE4 2BE

Private View: Fri 13th Nov, 6-9 pm
Open brunches: Sat 14th/Sun 15th

Curator / artist talks: Wed 18th 6pm

Open by appointment until 22nd November 2015

The Bread and Jam series gives artists the run of a near-empty, refurb-ready house in Brockley. In the third show, eleven artists explore the territory between order and disorder, potential and realisation, unformed and defined. Each has chosen a shape to insinuate or impose – to varying degrees – in advance of the fuller reshaping to come. There’s no suggestion that conventional family living will follow on, though: none of the artists define themselves simply as a man, although Brian Dawn Chalkley does gain the rare distinction of featuring in all-male (Chercher le garcon at Mac/Val, Paris) and no-male exhibitions in the same year. Ten men are, however, busy doing the washing in Claire Macdonald’s Launderette, and Frances Richardson is in control of moulding the phallus. What can it all mean for the shapes we’re in? Jennet Thomas’ film threatens to provide an answer, but it keeps slipping away… 

There are, then, two frameworks through which the works chosen can be viewed – but the main point is that the artists bring their own set of concerns well beyond that, which is what I touch on in the following notes. Another linkage emerges: Austin, Thomas and Macdonald provide us with a powerful ritual on each floor, which then highlights that aspect in other work, too.

 Alicja Dobrucka – mushroom  shape  | Oona Grimes - toast | Brian Dawn Chalkley - leaf| Frances Richardson  phallus | Emma Cousin – heart | Rana Begum – irregular polyhedron| Selma Parlour -  trapezium | Natasha Kahn – rectangle  | Claire Macdonald - circle | Miriam Austin - nonagon  |  Jennet Thomas – amorphous shapes

Miriam Austin - nonagon

Miriam Austin: Prosthetics for Hostile Contexts (detail), 2015

In her ritual actions, originating in the pleasingly quixotic project of founding a new religion,  it’s been unclear whether Miriam Austin inhabits nature or allows it to inhabit her: blossom grows on her throat, her breast becomes a beak, and she lies inside a fish. That spirit carries over into organic sculptural forms: she’s been slathering poisonous flowers in prosthetic silicone to monstrously gorgeous effect, picking at the connection between beauty and threat. Here dried brugmansia (which is also hallucogenic), foxgloves and carnivorous plants take their places among nine objects. They reference the use of the nonagon in the relatively recent Bahai faith, and are designed to be worn in rituals* which make up the imagined corners of perhaps the simplest shape which the eye can’t identify without counting. Maybe there’s a spell in that…

* as they will be at the ICA (December) and Bosse & Baum (Feb)

Rana Begum – irregular polygon 


Rana Begum installation shot with No. 622 Drawing, 2015 - Paint and powder-coated mild steel

Anglo-Bangladeshi artist Rana Begum became known for fetish-finished wall-based works in what one might term two and a half dimensions, that indeterminate space in between two dimensional painting and three dimensional sculpture. They’re legible from front-on but dynamised by the viewer so that physical movement activates colour movement, evoking such street features as railings, billboards, bridges and traffic. Begum has branched out substantially in the last few years (as we’ll see, no doubt, in her April 2016 solo show at the Parasol Unit), but here she boils down the essence of that original inspiration: inside the house, on a characterful wall, brightness shadows shapes with enough substance to make us wonder what is primary; while outside, the perspectives expand.

Brian Dawn Chalkley – leaf shape 


Brian Dawn Chalkley: 

I had no idea who those people were.

I thought it was a scam.

I’ve always had a very unhealthy relationship with heels.

I think that beauty comes out of being unique in every way.

Especially when I am laying on the beach.

Watercolour on paper, 2015

Leading the MA at Chelsea College as Brian and going out as Dawn by night, Chalkley is an abstract painter who turned to performance, film and – latterly – slightly washed-out and apparently naive paintings of women. Having sourced a photographic starting point with the right air of anxiety, Chalkley designs clothes – cue leaf shapes and ongoing references to abstract art - to suit how he sees his ostensible subjects’ personalities. Then follows a parallel process to decide on a background. A disjointed allure results, pointed up by the lengthy titles, which incorporate quotes from fashion magazines. They gesture towards fleshing out the character but leave us wondering if it’s all a pretence – which it might very well be, for these paintings also represent Chalkley’s own dreams of how he’d like to be, of the act he’d like to pull off.

Emma Cousin – heart


Emma Cousin: The Heart of the Party, 2015

Emma Cousin runs Bread and Jam (together with Emily Austin and Rebecca Glover) and it takes place in her house... so I’ve put her at the heart of it with a set of paintings investigating that very organ as a throbbing, dancing, padlocked grenade to be worn on the sleeve. Cousin’s work typically merges abstract qualities with colloquial narratives to generate a witty to and fro, often with a lively awareness of the contingencies of the body. Literature feeds her practice, too, and here she muses in paint and words on the heart as a ‘bad dancer’, juicy as steak but vulnerable as it pumps itself to death juggling its many roles. ‘It’s murder on the dance floor’. If that sounds savage, the cocktail sticks which make for colourful skewers suggest that the party of life isn’t such a bad way to go…

Alicja Dobrucka – mushroom shape

Alicja Dobrucka: from – Concrete Mushrooms, Albania, 2011

Albania is littered with mushroom-shaped bunkers: some 750,000 were built between 1967 and 1986, during which time Enver Hoxha encouraged a paranoid fear of attack from all sides of his isolated Maoist dictatorship. As perhaps the most anti-Platonic inclusion among the shapes we’re in, they’re now obsolete for defence. Anglo-Polish artist Alicja Dobrucka set out to document them - whether the bunkers have been turned to other uses, given radical makeovers or reduced to rubble. In this first British appearance, two in contrasting condition seem to have landed in the sea, and the stairwell location plays to their rhizomatic implications.

Oona Grimes – bread shape 


Oona Grimes: toes n toast (detail), 2014 - ceramic, 120cm x 20cm

Oona Grimes’ complex practice is rooted in drawing but proceeds through all available means. She often plays with flatness, and that’s the case in the installation 'where's my breakfast'. The naturally volumetric medium of clay is used to make flatly absurd slices of cheese (jerry’s lunch) and bread (the toes n toast with which Grimes also supplies the Paul Weller flavour of Jam). The naturally flat form of spray paint through stencils is used to describe the three dimensionality of an alternative architectural space – one of Grimes’ series Flann’s architectural digest, in which the spirit of the comedic Irish writer Flann O’Brien is invoked to play with a recurring typology of forms: invented tartans, household items, diagrammatic and brick buildings struggling to go 3D. I can imagine the combination of ghostly sound piece - of an old woman asking for her breakfast from behind the wall -  and 'choir' of clay potatoes appealing to O’Brien, too.

Natasha Kahn – rectangle

Natasha Hahn: A Lementation (detail), 2015

Natasha Kahn, who co-runs the interesting Streatham project space DOLPH, trained as a painter. Using tape extensively to mask out areas and hem in flat planes of colour, she found it took on a separate life of its own in the accidental compositions which formed on the wall as she put the used tape to one side. That set up what Kahn regards as ‘a measured disorder’. Now shapes of tape morph into others as they are recycled between works and interact with the surrounding architecture and with related materials, such as the concrete which Kahn installs here. This emptying out of paintings towards entropy - perhaps lamenting the loss of paint along the way - finds an echo in her sparse intervention  and in the curiously diverting and painterly subject of her rubbishy slideshow: colourful trade refuse bins.

Claire Macdonald – circle

Claire Macdonald: still from Launderette, 2015 – film, 21.41 minutes

Claire Macdonald made Launderette for her Golsdmiths degree show. It’s simple - ten men talk for a couple of minutes each as their washing is done – but artful. The edits between watching, clothes-handling, machines and talking heads generate an appropriate rhythm. The setting is old-fashioned and the customers – in a less than traditional male role – have more regrets than wealth. But they speak with straightforward dignity, and cover many bases: birth, childhood, love, money, class, race, disability, mental illness, war. And, although what the men say is pretty much clichés, the cumulative effect is to remind us why such statements became clichés in the first place – their repeated relevance to human concerns. Something of life’s essential cycles enters the commonplace circles of the spin cycle.

Selma Parlour – trapezium

Selma Parlour: Menu, 2015 - oil on linen 36cm x 51cm

If you’re looking to add to the history of geometry in abstract painting, then the trapezium - that’s a quadrilateral with just one pair of parallel sides – seems good as a little-used choice. But it would be fairer to call these paintings of paintings of trapeziums - meta-paintings, if you will. Maybe they depict the shapes of windows: both in their site-specific conversation with the attic architecture and in the suggestion of openings on a computer screen: that’s consistent with the semi-translucent layering of colour over a white ground, which provides a hint of backlighting. Or could the presence of horizon lines – echoing the Chalkleys with which they share a room – suggest those paintings of trapeziums are objects in a landscape? Perhaps, if you’re looking at what else is on show in London at the moment, Parlour’s game is closer to Escher’s mind-bending regressions than Hoyland’s colourfield assertions.


Frances Richardson - phallus

Frances Richardson: still from Phallus, 2015

Adam made Eve out of clay, leaving it to Frances Richardson to take revenge of sorts in a film which may surprise those who’ve seen only the various streams of drawing and sculpture which make up the best-known aspects of her practice. Richardson fashions a phallus in a performance which lasts 11 minutes when screened at 6 x the original speed, so turning the sound into an absurdist slap and squeak. This makes for a witty foregrounding of ‘the artist’s hand’. Is the piece feminist? Perhaps, but there’s a productive ambiguity to Phallus, as such a shaping might be welcomed as the ultimate hand job as much as resisted for its elemental seizing of control.


Jennet Thomas – amorphous shapes

Jennet Thomas: still from Return of the Black Tower, 2007 - film, 15 minutes

I’m allowing a little personal continuity here, as John Smith’s The Black Tower, 2007, featured in my spring 2015 show ‘The Presence of Absence’. In it, a complicated dance between what is and isn’t real starts from the simple device of filming a water tower from a number of angles to suggest differing locations. Jennet Thomas takes Smith in her own weirdly compelling low-fi direction. Visually distinctive people struggle with the subjectivity of their attempts to engage with something just beyond their comprehension, the shifting shape of which they can no more pin down than they can work out what one of them calls ‘the meaning embedded in the relation of things’. Is it epistemology or religion they’re grappling with? Or art?


Paul Carey-Kent, Curator

November, 2015


It started with a brunch to choose rooms:


Rebecca, Claire and Emily
Jennet tucks in

Brian Dawn with Oona

Oona brought in the Jam

Then the installation:

Miriam installing

Emma hanging a heart
Oona positioning jerry's lunch

And the opening:

Selma with her work

Rana in her room
Miriam with her foxglove works

Oona with ceramic potato

Natasha in her room

Rana's outside work No. 625 I. Drawing by night

Me with Selma and Emma

Oona and family

Miriam explains to Poppy Whatmore

 Brunches followed over the weekend

That's Emma's most understanding husband, Fox, next to her

Rana's outside work by day

Contact: Emma Cousin 07841832501

Press enquiries: Emily Austin 07733321395

Address: 52 Whitbread Road, Brockley, London SE4 2BE

Generously sponsored by Cooper’s Bakehouse

Transport: Brockley (Overground & southern), Crofton park (Thames Link)

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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.