Tag Archives: pigment

Size Isn’t Everything: Josh Lilley and Lisson

13 May

As there was only a week or so left of Josh Lilley’s latest exhibition, I decided to pop in to see their presentation of sculpture by a trio of artists – Bryn Lloyd-Evans, John Nielsen, and Jonathan Trayte.

The exhibition is quite a mixed bag, highlighting the variety of sculptural practice that exists in the contemporary art world at the moment – some playful, some serious.  These works are designed for presentation in a gallery such as this and are intrinsically aware of their audience, made with us in mind and moulded for us to look.  They wouldn’t exist without their audience.

Downstairs at Josh Lilley Gallery. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

The works are not as simple as they first appear.  Nielsen, in particular, presents domestic objects, based on recognisable objects, that aren’t domestic at all.  The works’ overt self-consciousness takes us by surprise as the artist’s personality and process is evident.  His works are intended to function in conversation with one another.  Nielsen wants us to regard his sculptures of historic artefacts from another time or place rather than modern sculpture, provoking questions of interpretation, narration and fiction to become embedded in their meanings.

John Nielsen, The Means of Separation or Common Ground for Strangers. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

All three artists present very contrasting pieces.  Trayte’s works have a surprising delicacy considering their highly stylised colouring inspired by the glossy packaging of modern-day products.  Yet, the works originate from organic objects that are cast in bronze and then painted in meticulous layers.  The contradictions inherent within the works present a state of fragility.

Jonathan Trayte’s works at Josh Lilley Gallery. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

This exhibition takes an interesting look at young artists who are already making a rapid impact on the art world.  Although the individual pieces didn’t cry out to me, they work as a collective group, showing the artists’ acute engagement with the parameters of gallery display.

From there, I headed to the Lisson Gallery for the opening of two new exhibitions.  Jason Martin’s paintings are intoxicating, focusing on the purity and mesmerising power of paint itself.  Applied in thick brushstrokes, sweeping arcs of colour dance dynamically across Martin’s canvases.  Martin plays with paint – for him it is not just the tool with which he creates a work but the core of his practice.  He pushes the boundary of the medium, sculpting his pigment to create densely-worked surfaces.

Jason Martin, Rumi, Camber and Rugen. Own photograph.

In Behemoth, Martin has transcended the two-dimensional, creating a monumental work comprising layers of stacked virgin cork coated in black pigment.  This is a radical departure for Martin and shows his theatrical use of pigment in a new, unruly manner.  Behemoth is a mythical beast mentioned in the Book of Job that has become a metaphor for any large entity.  The work’s physical presence in the gallery almost denotes another being; around which we are forced, simultaneously inspired and intimidated.

Jason Martin, Behemoth. Own photograph.

Across the road in Lisson’s second space is an exhibition of works by Richard Deacon.  Again, it is the monumental that makes the most impact.  Congregate is a large stainless steel sculpture with interlocking frames that come together to form an intricate and challenging single entity.  The work is playful and vibrant, challenging the viewer mentally to untangle its intrinsically linked, individual elements.

Richard Deacon, Congregate. Own photograph.

Fold, the second of the monumental works, is a glazed ceramic sculpture hypnotic in its design.  Once more, the work is composed from multiple elements that come together to form an oversized piece, foreboding in size yet inviting in form.

Richard Deacon, Fold. Own photograph.

The remainder of the exhibition consists of smaller rectilinear works, interesting in their intimacy and not at all what I have come to expect from Deacon.  They, however, lack the impact of the larger works.  I know that size isn’t everything but for me they seemed to be the forerunners to the overall construction of the larger pieces.  Deacon has always been fascinated by construction and the exhibition furthers these preoccupations, analysing how single objects unite to form a whole.

Richard Deacon at Lisson Gallery. Own photograph.

Although I wasn’t able to afford them huge amounts of time, both exhibitions at the Lisson were worth the dash down the Bakerloo line – they are reflective shows concentrating on the progression of two artists who present interesting cross-overs in their radically different practices.

Bryn Lloyd-Evans, John Nielsen, Jonathan Trayte is at Josh Lilley Gallery until 18th May, www.joshlilleygallery.com.   Jason Martin: Infinitive and Richard Deacon: Association are both at Lisson Gallery until 23rd June 2012, www.lissongallery.com.

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Getting to know Lucian Freud…

8 Feb

Although Lucian Freud died last year, the exhibition of his work at the National Portrait Gallery is very much a living show, a survey curated in collaboration with the artist.  This is not meant to be a tribute show or a memorial retrospective and the NPG did not try to change the feeling of the hang they were working on with him.

Instead, it is a show spanning seven decades of Freud’s portraiture and it does this beautifully.  Paintings of people were central to Freud and, indeed, he felt that all of his works were portraits.

Lucain Freud, Girl with a White Dog, 1950-1. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The exhibition comprises 130 works from which it is possible to trace Freud’s stylistic development and his movement towards a denser application of paint.  It starts with the early works – head and shoulders portraits where an often alarming tension permeates the canvas as though Freud had not quite become comfortable with his own hand.  In the mid-1950s, when he began using stiffer hogshair brushes and loosening his style, he also started to work standing up – a drastic change for an artist who had always painted while sitting down, in a confined space.  From here on, you can feel his work become more alive and energetic as he moves around the canvas and uses his whole body to paint.  After Freud stood up, he said he never sat down again.  This is the start of the Freud that we truly know.  The canvases then increase in size from the 1980s when he seems to offer himself and his sitters breathing space.

Lucian Freud at the National Portrait Gallery. Own photograph.

Broadly chronological, the exhibition begins in 1940 with a portrait of Cedric Morris, Freud’s tutor at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing; it ends with the unfinished work that was on his easel when he died.  For many, this final piece will be the highlight – a huge unfinished portrait of David Dawson – Freud’s studio assistant and closest friend – with his whippet, Eli.  Portrait of the Hound is a deeply affectionate work, showing the intimacy between artist and sitter, their mutual understanding and respect.  Both the dog and Dawson are completely relaxed in Freud’s presence.

Lucian Freud, Portrait of the Hound, 2011. Image via www.artknowledgenews.com

Enough has been written about Freud’s many lovers and children that I do not feel the need to discuss Freud himself in depth – I don’t want to detract from what an amazing exhibition this is.  This is Freud’s life in paint showing the cast of fascinating characters he met along the way.  With sittings often taking several months (some even years), the works are a result of Freud’s intimate study and concentration.  His relationship with the sitters is often attributable to the success and fame of his portraits.

Lucian Freud, Nude with Leg Up, 1992. Own photograph.

The show includes many of Freud’s well-known works such as portraits of Francis Bacon, Leigh Bowery and Sue Tilley.  Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, one of his many paintings of Big Sue, set a world record of £22m when it sold in 2008.  I was lucky enough to see Sue, posing in front of the three portraits of her including in the exhibition.  Her vivacity and larger than life personality was infectious and seeing one of Freud’s sitters up close brought new meaning to the work.  His truthfulness is inescapable.  Freud’s expert depiction of flesh (acres of which can be seen on show here) was in part attributable to his use of Cremnitz white – a dry pigment with a stiff consistency (it has so much lead content that the tube weighs twice as much as normal) that he began to use the mid-1970s.

Sue Tilley posing in front of one of her portraits. Own photograph.

Usually when I go round an exhibition, I make copious notes but this art is so incredible that it speaks for itself.  I’m not trying to discredit the critics who find that a biographical approach is inevitable when discussing Freud or the many excellent monographs on his life which have told me so much about Freud over the years but, here, you must just look and revel in the opportunity that is being afforded you and give his work the close attention it deserves.  It is an intimate exhibition and the scale of some of the smaller rooms is intended to mimic the scale of his studio.

Lucian Freud, Interior with Plant, Reflection Listening (Self-Portrait), 1967-8. Own photograph.

My only criticism, and this is really a sign of the exhibition’s greatness. is that it will be too busy.  It was even a scrum at the preview this morning.  The works deserve quiet solitude but the small rooms here are going to be unbearable at peak times.  This criticism, however, just shows how incredible Freud is.  He deserves the heaving throngs that will fill the NPG from tomorrow.

Lucian Freud, detail of Reflection (Self-portrait), 1985. Image via www.dawn.com.

This is a living exhibition; Freud’s paintings allow us to see the real people behind the paint with human frailty at its most magnified.  There’s no hiding in a Freud, no distractions – the works are compositionally simple and successful.  He scrutinises every detail and the intensity of some of his paintings still has the power to shock us 40 years on.

There are many works here that we know but far more that we don’t.  This show is a triumph.  Most people can recognise a Freud but, until this exhibition, I don’t think many could understand the evolution of his painting.

Lucian Freud Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery from tomorrow until 27th May 2012, www.npg.org.uk.

 

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