There is an exception to every rule. My rule is not to write about each show a commercial gallery puts on but the Josh Lilley Gallery is my exception. This is now my third Artista post on their exhibitions and I’m still smitten. As long as they keep curating shows of this calibre, I feel I have to keep sharing.
Peacock Trousers is a joint show of works by the artists Gabriel Hartley and Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom.
The exhibition opens in the upstairs gallery with a solitary sculpture by Hartley, a 2005 graduate from the Royal Academy Schools who is already developing an international reputation. Instead of being tempted to overcrowd the room by displaying more works, this beautiful piece has cleverly been given the space it deserves.
Gabriel Hartley, Split Piece, 2011. Own photograph.
More of Hartley’s works are to be seen downstairs – delicate sculptures with fascinating texture and colour; the works appear momentarily frozen in the act of collapse -they are so light that an attendant was hovering nearby to prevent people from walking into them. They look very tactile but don’t get any clever ideas about touching them while you’re down there. Hartley builds and abstracts the works; an inherent contradiction is present in each sculpture as the subject seems in flux – is this raw form a figure or what does the abstract mass represent? These aesthetically simple works have a powerful emotional resonance. The sprayed and tarnished surfaces of the works tease, confuse and intrigue the viewer, presenting a mysterious conundrum.
Hartley’s sculptures look heavy, as though carved from marble whereas, in fact, they are sheets of crumbled and folded paper, covered in fibreglass and resin and then carved away or smoothed over. The resulting effect resembles metal or stone. Coloured wallpaper, made of collaged A1 drawings (the same paper used to construct the sculptures), forms a backdrop for the sculptures. The basic elements evoke the wall paintings made by Paleolithic cave-dwellers to protect themselves from supernatural forces and to act as a magical guard – the mystery of Hartley’s sculpture is almost magical in form. It is possible that the aesthetic value of cave painting was unintended, but became evident as tool working moved beyond the strictly utilitarian into something more aesthetically pleasing. Although Hartley’s drawings are aesthetically pleasing, as a backdrop, they become purely decorative, enhancing and dramatising the sculpture.
Gabriel Hartley, Heel, 2010. Own photograph.
The Josh Lilley Gallery magically transforms itself for every exhibition. Although my stilettoes have grown accustomed to tottering down the steep staircase, I never know what will await me. They’ve done it again; it couldn’t be more different than the set-up for the Fabian Seiz show. There is a feeling of a wonderful and exciting contrast, creating a distinct divide, as the exhibition passes onto Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom, an artist who uses the readymade, or everyday object, as his starting point to instigate a performance. He enjoys transforming objects into absurd sculptures, filled with humour.
These works aren’t so much ‘my thing’ but they are very successful. Peacock is a series of eight rainbow-coloured photographs, each showing a low-lying lampshade (perhaps the reason why the works themselves are hung so low) with an increasing number of lightbulbs underneath.
Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom, Peacock, 2011. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com.
These works recall historic still life where the light source is external to the composition. Here, the whole subject is the light source, as Boakye-Yiadom breaks with tradition and moulds convention into his own stylistic motif. For me, Peacock lacks the excitement of some of the artist’s earlier works.
Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom, Peacock, 2011. Own photograph.
Boakye-Yiadom’s video installation, Golden Underground, is, however, superb; it shows him playing a piano with a paintbrush. The film stops and starts, leaving the viewer in pitch darkness listening to a rendition of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag. The video exposes the vulnerability and banality within the artist’s practice, focusing our awareness on the role of the artist and also on the artist’s self-awareness. It is very easy to become immersed in this piece and love it. Whether for its more complex undertones or for its jovial styling, it made me smile.
Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom, Golden Underground, 2011. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com.
One of the things that makes these two bodies of work successfully alongside one another is their contrast and, somewhat different but equally experimental, use of practice – Hartley’s use of paper as a medium for sculpture and Boakye-Yiadom’s playful treatment of the everyday.
I don’t know what made me fall for this gallery. It’s not just me as other visitors I spoke to at the exhibition seemed equally enamoured. Regular readers will know I’m not generally slow to criticise but I haven’t yet seen anything here I would want to criticise. Josh Lilley’s exhibitions hit the nail right on the head.
After the exhibition, we headed for dinner at Elysée on Percy Street, a wonderful little Greek restaurant, only 5 minutes away, where we were treated like gods and fed delicious food until we were ready to explode. All in all, a great evening.
If you haven’t been to the Josh Lilley Gallery yet then shame on you – you’re missing some excellent exhibitions. Hurry along!
Peacock Trousers: Gabriel Hartley and Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom is at the Josh Lilley Gallery until 13th August 2011, http://www.joshlilleygallery.com.