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In-Out Exhibitions: David Spiller and Gary Hume

30 Jan

David Spiller’s works always manage to make people smile – playing with images from popular culture such as Popeye and Olive Oyl or Minnie and Mickey Mouse that are often graffitied with his uniquely personal language.  The paintings are always filled with joy, vibrancy and passion.  They are frequently romantic.  There was no information available in the gallery and, when I asked about the exhibition, the gallery attendant wasn’t able to proffer anything except the prices but the website tells us that the show presents 25 new works in which Spiller has, supposedly, started to move away from his trademark style to a more reflective and elusive way of painting.

David Spiller at Beaux Arts. Own photograph.

Indeed, the paintings have become a bit darker in tone and lost some of their dynamism and energy but it’s not as if Spiller has broken free from the mould.  They are fairly good works (if you like Spiller) but what’s great about Spiller is the fun factor and it would be sad if he decides to move away from this.

David Spiller, No Words, 2011. Own photograph.

The Beaux Arts’ dog was napping quietly in the gallery which is always a nice reward.

Still the only Dog in the Blog. Own photograph.

Just down the road from Cork Street, White Cube has mounted another double exhibition – that uses both Mason’s Yard and Hoxton Square – a stunt which seems to be all the range at the moment.  One of the original YBAs, Gary Hume’s career took off straight after finishing at Goldmsiths when Saatchi bought two of his paintings and commissioned a further four.  He’s always been famous but he’s never had the celebrity profile of some of his peers.  But, then again, he’s never been quite as radical.  There is the feeling that Hume was in the right place at the right time and benefitted from the go-get-it attitude of some of the others.

The ground floor gallery presents a range of paintings of flowers and plants, suggesting innocence and newness.  They’re nice, but not exciting.

Gary Hume, Ground Floor at Mason’s Yard. Image via www.whitecube.com

Hume’s works are all about the painted surface as the shimmering quality of his paint takes on a lacquered appearance.  His favourite medium, as reflected by this show, is gloss paint on aluminium and he has no plans to change his working style.  Although they look like painting-by-numbers canvases, the process is complicated with a system of tracing the image from acetate, transferring it to aluminium when he is finally happy and then building up the lines with draught excluder.  Then they are painted and the lines cut away to create sharp edges.  He enjoys the reflective nature of this type of paint and how it imposes multiple levels on his work.

Gary Hume. Leaves in grey, 2011. Image via www.whitecube.com

His paintings are decorative, making use of pretty colours; they’d be well-suited to an interior designer working with a colour chart.  The downstairs works are more interesting but this is partly due to the brighter, better space and the interplay of sculpture and painting.

You’d be easily forgiven for not really knowing what these paintings depict.  They look like blobs, brightly coloured masses that didn’t demand my time or my attention.  A large problem with these works is that they deserve more explanation than we’re given in the gallery.  A one-sided press release is on offer to give us some background about the work but, when you skim the surplus, there are only three paragraphs with any substance and they seem to miss the points about which Hume labours when interviewed.

Gary Hume, Paradise Painting Two, 2010. Image via www.whitecube.com

The sculptures downstairs at Mason’s Yard look like giant worms, waiting to be eaten by the birds in the paintings on the walls.  But, Hume describes the ‘birds’ as ‘pubescent girls’ shown in some strange sexual paradise.  Seen in this context, the sweet worms take on a phallic presence with a more dominating tone.  But, this sort of idea doesn’t shock anymore.  I don’t think Hume is trying to shock us either.  He’s just doing what he knows with a slightly warped sense of humour.

Installation shot of downstairs at Mason’s Yard. Image via www.whitecube.com

The Indifferent Owl just isn’t exciting.  It’s an in-out exhibition that didn’t really merit the time I had allocated for it.  I wasn’t looking forward to heading to Hoxton but felt maybe this would complete the picture for me; I far preferred browsing stock in other Mayfair galleries that I passed.

Anyway, off I went on the tube to White Cube part two.  The works in Hoxton Square are a bit grittier. The Playground, a large-scale black canvas, really sums up what Hume is trying to achieve through the use of his reflective medium.

Visitors to White Cube with The Playground in the background. Image via www.facebook.com/whitecubegalleries

Upstairs, Hume has installed a rainbow into the small gallery, aluminium fragments placed high up on the walls.  The colours aren’t displayed in the conventional order and the work feels a bit lacklustre.  A rainbow is meant to invoke happiness and joy – this just felt a bit bland.  I could take it or leave it.  There is one great drawing here, though, that seems at odds with the rest of the exhibition and is definitely worth climbing up the stairs to see.

Hume’s rainbow. Image via www.whitecube.com

The show’s title, The Indifferent Owl, refers to an epiphany Hume experienced in New York when, one evening, he heard an owl hooting.  The next day he found a silver party balloon semi-deflated in the mud and reflected that the owl must have seen it with total indifference.  For me, this bears no relation to what’s on show here and is somewhat ridiculous.

Hume himself is described as being remarkably dishevelled and generally a bit of a mess which is surprising when looking at the clinical neatness of his paintings.

As is so often the case, Hume is another artist whose work doesn’t reproduce well.  The paintings are not that much better in the flesh but the boldness and brightness of the colours is, at least, given the opportunity to radiate from the walls.  The works are elegant but they don’t take long to admire.  Hume himself says he’s only ‘creative for half an hour a day’ using the rest of the time ‘to make that creativity visible.’  Maybe he should try to spend a little longer being creative and then I’d want to spend a little longer in the exhibition.

David Spiller is at Beaux Arts until 18th February 2012, www.beauxartslondon.co.uk.  Gary Hume: The Indifferent Owl is at White Cube Hoxton Square and Mason’s Yard until 25th February 2012, www.whitecube.com.

Tuesday is the new Thursday – Paul McCarthy at Hauser & Wirth and more…

15 Nov

Winter has certainly arrived and, after a quick amaretto latte at Caffè Nero (my winter essential), I was grateful to take refuge inside the first gallery of the evening. Tuesday seems to be the new Thursday and with openings all across London, I selected four within easy walking distance of each other.

I began at Hauser & Wirth on Piccadilly to see one part of their current Paul McCarthy exhibition which is spread over both their gallery spaces and St James’s Square.  Not Paul McCartney – this is an art blog!  As everyone will know, Paul McCarthy, is, of course, one of the world’s most celebrated living artists.  Jonathan Jones of the Guardian recently travelled to Los Angeles to visit McCarthy and was overwhelmed by the vastness of his studio – the size of the operation is not just a Hollywood essential but is vital to his work as the exhibition fills three spaces (four if you count the Savile Row split) with huge ambitious pieces.  He’s also currently showing in their New York gallery and his daughter, Mara, has curated their Zurich exhibition – Hauser seem to like keeping it in the family.

Paul McCarthy, The King, 2006-2011.  Copyright to, and courtesy of, the artist and via Hauser & Wirth, www.hauserwirth.com

Presiding over the ground floor at the Piccadilly space is McCarthy’s The King, a monumental installation raised on a platform and surrounded by large-scale airbrush paintings, supposedly created on the easel which stands on the said platform.  The main focus here is a silicone model of the artist – naked.  Slumped on a wooden throne, wearing a long blond wig, his limbs are partly severed, his eyes are closed (possibly in pain).  He is grotesque.  And, as is so often the case, we cannot help but look.  Church pews have been arranged in front of the piece so that the space becomes a chapel where visitors can worship at the shrine of the artist.  Incredibly, this created an almost holy hush across the gallery particularly noticeable to regular Hauser PV guests.  The King had cast an intense spell and everyone seemed intoxicated by his power.  There are other works in the vault rooms downstairs and the gallery spaces on the top floor but they didn’t have quite the same impact as the resonance of the initial piece. Neither, was it easy to access them; ascending or descending the stairs involved getting far too ‘up close and personal’ with the other guests.

Paul McCarthy, Mad House Jr., 2011.  Copyright to, and courtesy of, the artist and via Hauser & Wirth, www.hauserwirth.com

Next, I wandered along Piccadilly to Beaux Arts who have an exhibition of paintings by Jonathan Leaman.  There is no doubt that his skill as an artist is exemplary and the paintings are good but, for me, they were not sensational (maybe this is unfair considering the act they had to follow).

Jonathan Leaman, The Great Pipe, 2006-2011.  Own photograph.

Leaman is visibly inspired by narrative works from the 17th and 18th centuries and he saturates his works with meanings and emotional incidents.  Beaux Arts had one particularly special visitor in the gallery, intent on cleaning his paws whilst offering the occasional greeting to anyone who intruded on his space by the bar.

Beaux Arts’ dog and the first dog in the blog. Own photograph.

Cork Street was awash with visitors and I passed at least five other tempting openings as I headed to my number three.  But, alas, there was no time.  Well, I say that but an enticing display of shoes distracted us for at least ten minutes.  Research for Artista, of course!

Kurt Geiger. Own photograph.

TAG Fine Arts have taken over the Air Gallery on Dover Street with an exhibition of maps.  Map-making is an ancient art form that has helped to form a coherent geographical image of the world.  But, maps are no longer merely useful objects to be used for navigation and this is often the last thing on the mind of the cartographer.  This exhibition shows how traditional topography has evolved into territory for imaginative exploration.  These are not just two-dimensional pieces but windows into imagined lands.

The Art of Mapping at the Air Gallery, Dover Street. Own photograph.

The Art of Mapping celebrates cartography as an art form in which artists use maps to respond to their environments, creatively register ideologies, emotions and ideas and present selective records of real or fictitious worlds.  Highlights are new works by Stephen Walter and Rob Ryan but the exhibition showcases a number of contemporary artists concentrating on these themes including a range of new works as well as old favourites like Simon Patterson’s The Great Bear.  From Google’s controversial Street View project, to the British Library’s Magnificent Maps exhibition, cartography is increasingly in the public eye.  One vodka tonic and lots of chatting later and time seemed to be running away with me…again!

Simon Patterson, The Great Bear, 1992. Own photograph.

My final stop was part two of the McCarthy exhibition at Hauser & Wirth on Savile Row.  The North Gallery is taken over by Pig Island, a work that took seven years to complete, filling McCarthy’s studio, blurring the boundaries between a work and the workplace.

Paul McCarthy, Pig Island, 2003-2010. Own photograph from the viewing ladder.

The sculpture combines political and popular figures, placing them in a morally deviant world overrun with images of reckless abandon.  Constructed and raised on blocks of polystyrene, the work is littered with wood, cast body parts, clay, spray paint and old fast-food containers.

Paul McCarthy, Pig Island, 2003-2010. Copyright to, and courtesy of, the artist and via Hauser & Wirth, www.hauserwirth.com

Pig Island looks intentionally unfinished – a raw and never-ending work that could expand into infinity.  There is something in every nook and cranny but the state of the piece means we can see McCarthy’s thinking and the development of his skewed ideas.  Stepladders are placed around the work to allow visitors a better view of the piece.  But, stilettos and a short dress meant I didn’t dare embark on this particular climb.  Instead, my loyal friend ventured up the ladder for me (and for you) with the camera and somehow managed not to fall headfirst into the island.

The ladders/viewing platforms for Pig Island. Own photograph.

The South Gallery presents some of the offspring of Pig Island which McCarthy himself has described as a sculpture machine.  Train, Mechanical shows two pot-bellied caricatures of George W. Bush, sodomising two pigs.

Paul McCarthy, Train, Mechanical, 2003-2009. Own photograph.

As perverse as it sounds, once again, it was impossible not to stop and stare.  The sculpture was intriguing and the audience were in no hurry to move away.  The work certainly brings out the voyeur in everyone.  I dare you not to stare at the rhythmic motion of the arses of presidents and pigs alike.

Paul McCarthy, detail of Train, Mechanical, 2003-2009. Own photograph.

Round the corner of the gallery, I gave in and changed into flats for my journey home.

Regent Street.

Walking down Regent Street, I had my first glimpse of this year’s Arthur Christmas Christmas lights – the countdown has truly begun.

Paul McCarthy: The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship is at Hauser & Wirth Savile Row, Piccadilly and St James’s Square until 14th January 2012 (Paul McCarthy’s outdoor sculpture Ship Adrift, Ship of Fools will be on view until 15 February at St James’s Square), www.hauserwirth.com.  Jonathan Leaman: As Above So Below, 5 Years in the Making is at Beaux Arts until 17th December 2011, www.beauxartslondon.co.ukThe Art of Mapping is at The Air Gallery until 26th November 2011, www.tagfinearts.com.

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