Despite the punitive rail strikes that continue to hammer London’s working population, a gift of exhibitions opened across the capital’s art districts during London Gallery Weekend. With so much to see, Artlyst highlights exhibitions in three areas that are all – relatively – within walking distance.
We began in Kensington at Cromwell Place, a one-stop concept for art lovers, host to a plethora of excellent galleries without a permanent space in London. The first artist that caught our eye was José Cori at Casa AmaCord, a gallery specialising in Latin American art. An elegant set of brightly coloured, meticulously drawn works by the Chilean artist, entitled The Wild Iris, were drawn – both figuratively and conceptually – from a collection of poems by Louise Gluck of the same title, released in 1992. The poems follow the narrative arc of a year in the garden, enlisting the reader in conversation with planting and tending and how our relationship with nature – and the act of creating – can heighten our sense of wonder. Instead of words, Cori uses colour, line, and form, but like poetry, he leaves a hovering sense of the unknown within his images: a white void between colours that allow for slippage. The mind apprehends a dissolution as if the picture is fading out. Seeing it might vanish, we try to grasp its essence in the same way we approach poetry and are left with a memory that is just as powerful. A lemon, underscored with ultramarine, is supernaturally illuminated by a table lamp; two blooming irises emerge from a ground of dense foliage, obscuring a receding figure that might be the poet, artist or gardener. As gallery owner Adrien explains, “Jose believes that all the scenes in his drawings refer in one way or another to a poetic emotion, in which things go beyond themselves, intersect and mix with others, giving the impression of what an instant definition achieves to then dissolve or transform into another image.”
Upstairs at Tin Man Art, we were treated to Mondes Hypothetiques by the French artist Marie Elisabeth Merlin. Her gloriously luminous works blend the observational with a host of imagined characters that might be universal archetypes – wolves, monkeys, owls – capturing the strange duality of life and tension between what we see and what it makes us think or feel.
“There are often several stories in a single painting… shadows cast on the ground take on a form that in the act of painting becomes a character. I am also interested in how the mind suggests imagery, such as wolves, and what happens to the work when we insert the imagined into a real scene.” There is something poetic about this process, developing a narrative between forms that captivates for its originality and freshness. Her colours sing with a Gaugin richness, heightened with contemporary notes of neon pink and fluorescent yellow. They are powerfully feminine, charged with an unbridled energy most keenly felt through the repeating figure or a pack of wolves. Symbolic of womanhood, family, pack mentality and survival instincts, their presence is not threatening but somehow daring, as if she is enlisting the viewer in a revision of what we deem to be dangerous in society, but also in our own psyche. For this, her work is both prescient and empowering; Merlin’s work does not shy away from the damage we’ve inflicted on nature but offers hope – the future is something we can reimagine.
Visit Here (https://www.tinmanart.com/)
CORK STREET/ MAYFAIR
Cork Street and the surrounding galleries in Mayfair (such as Dover Street) have a wealth of openings, but this weekend our standout discovery was the artist Tyga Helme at Messums London. In the Wings is a show that throws open the delicate pages of an artist’s notebook process, offering a rare insight into the meticulous detail of sustained observation. Part of the joy in seeing Helme’s large-scale works, assembled in grids out of pages that each represent a moment in the study of a hedgerow, verge or undergrowth, is one of appreciating how a mind can become attuned to the subtle shifts and cycles of our light-sensitive world. As we try to understand how each section fits so harmoniously into the next, we begin to see the interconnecting patterns as a metaphor for the acquisition of knowledge, which takes us across the pages like a vine. ‘The untidy areas are the exciting bits,’ says Tyga, who lives on the Wiltshire Downs, where she seeks out the uncultivated corners of fields or patches of woodland floor to paint. ‘Things really do spring up in one day, and everything constantly shifts around,’ she says. ‘Grasses and brambles make way for animals; a shoot is there one day and gone the next because an animal has eaten it. A mushroom suddenly appears from nowhere. Everything is in a relationship with everything else.’
Winner of the Machin Foundation Prize at The Royal Drawing School, Tyga uses nature as a metaphor for feelings of being overwhelmed. She couples minute observation of the teeming forest floor – where the lucent green of a bramble leaf hovers above the cold blue of fallen leaves – with the compulsive energy of growth. “Helme’s meditative response to micro worlds quietly draws attention to the underlying structures in nature and the ecosystems on which we all depend,” says Dr Claudia Milburn, head of programming at Messums London. Messums has a strong lineup of shows this year, and we look forward to the landmark retrospective of Bridget McCrum opening in Wiltshire next month.
If you want to do an art walking tour, then Eastcastle Street in Fitzrovia is the perfect place to begin. You can start from PM/AM and Pipeline Gallery, then take in Pilar Corrias and Omni, loop back to Edel Assanti and Gillian Jason Gallery on Great Titchfield Street, before going onto T J Boulting on Riding House Street, then FOLD, up to Brooke Bennington and finishing at Tristan Hoare on 6 Fitzroy Square, just to name a few!
PM/AM gallery is currently showcasing works by the one-to-watch artist Chidinma Nnoli after her residency. Host to a dynamic programme of residencies, the gallery is dedicated to giving artists who do not have access to a living studio in London the chance to work in this vibrant neighbourhood and connect with its thriving community. Nnoli (b. 1998 Enugu) lives and works in Lagos and recently had a sell-out solo show at the Marianne Boesky Gallery and The Armory Show NYC. Her figurative work is mysterious, soft-focused and nostalgic, as if it belongs to a forgotten moment. “Since 2020, my works have referenced my poems written in late adolescence. With figures posed like master paintings (but not visually constrained by a specific period), I am interested in creating paintings that feel like a hazy yet vivid memory…” says Nnoli. Her work is included in the gallery’s forthcoming group show entitled “What now?” alongside artists Dana James, Shanna Waddell, Cornelius Annor, and Isshaq Ismail, opening on 8th June until 7th July.
Next door is the delightful Pipeline, a concept gallery run by Tatiana Cheneviere that operates as a divided space with a main exhibition area and a separate, enclosed area. In the latter intimate space, she introduces each artist with a single artwork ahead of their exhibition. This first work is selected by the artist as a kind of key or anchor to their current practice or futures imagined, thus initiating a conversation about their forthcoming show. It primes us elegantly without spoiling the show’s reveal.
William Waterworth: ein tir
Occupying the entire gallery space this time is William Waterworth’s solo exhibition ein tir, which translates to ‘our land’ in Welsh. In this, he chronicles his new series and identifies key pivotal works, thus flipping the pipeline concept. In the end room of the gallery, we find the artist’s mind map comprising collage and writing. Like stills from Bruce Robinson’s Withnail and I, the images are wistful, the annotations searing. It includes a pilgrimage to Julia Margaret Cameron’s home on the Isle of Wight, the story of Zissou and the flying machine, and the journey a carpenter makes to the Alps inspired by Thomas Mann’s novel ‘The Magic Mountain’ (1924). These wonderfully eccentric expeditions are brought to life with a range of reference material by contributing artists, including video work by Joel Kerr and costumes designed by Edie Ashley installed on the lower ground floor.
Meanwhile, in the main gallery, a selection of stills represent the range and compositional elegance of Waterworth’s practice. His piercingly good eye for that decisive moment, his ability to use light and shadow for composition. At the forefront of the exhibition, set back from the window like a sculptural installation, is a unique handmade book of 100 prints inspired by Guy Bourdin’s book of images ‘Untouched’ (2017) and presented on a lectern made by Arthur Poujois. The book is the root of the exhibition and an indicator of Waterworth’s use of photography as a medium. I cannot wait to see what he does next and what Pipeline has in store. https://www.pipelinecontemporary.com/exhibitions-2-/current/
When it comes to the monumental, Edel Assanti takes the lead in this group of galleries. I am still enchanted by the work of Noemi Goudal, whose large-scale moving-image projection, suspension performances and kinetic installation ‘ANIMA’ is being shown at Tate Modern on 12-14 July. Now in their gallery is Marcin Dudek’s NEOPLAN, which runs concurrently with his solo show at Kunsthal Extra City, Antwerp, and the launch of his new monograph.
NEOPLAN continues Dudek’s series of “memory boxes”, installations born out of redundant spaces, still emblematic of the latent gender and racial toxicity associated with the construction of group identity. A dilapidated fan bus from Eastern Europe is placed theatrically within the gallery as if it accidentally arrived from another dimension. Its far side has been removed to expose an interior inspired by Polish artist Bronislaw Wojciech Linke’s surrealist painting, Autobus (1959-1961), overflowing with a slew of nightmarish spectres and human-object hybrids. Dudek’s bus elicits the visceral, compulsive emotions associated with a journey towards match-day confrontation. Seats shapeshift into stadium terracing; the roof is hand stitched from second-hand fan merch, like a flag. The white cube of the gallery enhances the blindness associated with this energy, of being so focused on the destination one is not present. On the gallery floor, several seats serve as sites for small film works, interacting with three wall-based collage works. Diagrammatic in their form, each piece delves into individual biographies of several self-proclaimed football hooligans and thugs, putting faces to the narratives explored. These are comprised of elements from Dudek’s vast subculture archive, collected as a teen member of a notoriously violent Krakow football fan club. At the exhibition’s opening, Dudek performed a three-minute smoke grenade intervention, thrilling the audience with an organised moment of chaos so central to the experience of football.
Like the Pipeline, Brooke Benington is a dual presentation space, where artists presented in both galleries are selected in concert but not placed in direct conversation. This leads to the discovery of unlikely relationships and suggests how one might foster this in collections. In the front room is a series of intensely detailed paintings, sharply focused on unlikely elements, entitled Quietism by Serbian-born Ana Milenkovic. Through the slow, singular medium of oil paint, she examines how public and cultural figures who represent us as a society are mythologised in our media – which ultimately is a source of fractured, often extreme, or antagonistic information. In the next room is a solo exhibition by Romanian-born London-based artist Catinca Malaimare, ‘Astropriest’. Incorporating performance, sculpture, audio, and film, Malaimare explores our intimate relationship with technological tools and disregard for obsolete technologies. The surreal, disconnected components of the installation and the performance play with our sense of time and make us question the concept of futuristic, which so quickly inhabits the past. This builds on the artist’s ongoing observation of our mechanical graveyards. Into all this seeps a soundtrack, like a ghost in the machine. A multi-channel audio narrative plays from a set of speakers in which the Astropriest performs a Siren’s song – moans prompted through a series of acoustic cues. Brilliant, eerie, and disturbing, this artist knows that the taste of fear is metallic.
Now showing at Tristan Hoare is ‘Paper’, curated with Flora Hesketh and Omar Mazhar. Inspired by the rich history of paper, invented in the first century in China, paper was once a ‘new’ technology that superseded all others. It facilitated the preservation and dissemination of knowledge; this light and inexpensive material became indispensable, our experience of it communal. A vast range of paper is made from an endless list of plants and trees, each with its own scent, tune and texture. It can be manipulated in extraordinary ways; cut, folded, burnt, glued, assembled, layered, printed on, painted on, and frequently artists are fanatical about it. The techniques in the exhibition include collage, embossing, folding, cutting, burning, papier mâché and coloured paper pulp. Emilie Pugh takes paper to its limits – stretching, then burning its surface to create patterns of negative space. Korean artist Minjung Kim also burns her works; receding layers of mulberry Hanji paper seem to convey the process of healing but also repeated scaring. A sense of the spiritual is manifest in Astha Butail’s formations – reflections of Sanskrit songs invested in paper. Y. Z. Kami’s Endless Prayers series form mandalas of cut-out paper, speak of celestial bodies and question our place within what we cannot fully know, and Parme Baratier makes his own paper from the plants he grows. It is a fine show to complete a full day of artistic encounters.
Words by Nico Kos Earle © Artlyst June 2023
Lead image: Artist Stewart Geddes, Gallerist James Elwes, artist Marie-Elisabeth Merlin, and artist Stanley Donwood at Tin Man Art opening, Cromwell Place