The Great War: Four Contemporary European Artists Mark Centenary With Exhibition

Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith London is marking the centenary of the beginning of The Great War with an exhibition of four European artists. Working across mediums in installation, drawing and painting, Harold de Bree (Netherlands), Florian Heinke (Germany), Eric Manigaud (France) and Hugh Mendes (United Kingdom) have made new work in response to the brief. Each artist was specifically invited by gallery director Zavier Ellis for their ongoing investigations into world war, with it being a dominant theme in all of their practices. Hailing from European countries that played significant roles between 1914 and 1918, each artist approaches the theme with profound and reflective endeavour.

Dutch artist Harold de Bree is known for making large scale installation and sculpture that replicates military hardware and public monuments. Playing on historical institutional tropes, de Bree poses complex questions about power, culture and nationalism. In this exhibition de Bree will present a site specific piece that resembles a WWI monument that might be found anywhere in Europe, but which also acts as a border marker. With wheels attached beneath, it is possible for the monument to move, hence commenting on the historical flux of national borders, and the implication of mutable frontlines that are defined by the processes of war and politics.       

German artist Florian Heinke uses black paint exclusively as a “radical medium”. His subjects are derived from traditional and digital media sources and often combine text to create an aesthetic that suggests a polemic poster or advertisement. Heinke’s paintings are aggressive, political and nihilistic. This unrestrained approach is intended to provoke the audience into an emotive reaction, much in the same way that corporate businesses and political parties manipulate the public with powerful combinations of imagery and slogans. Heinke’s confrontational strategy reveals a deep lying cynicism of the modern age but also an artist who is profoundly concerned with current socio-political issues.     

French artist Eric Manigaud is renowned for his impeccable large scale photorealist drawings. Derived from historical sources, Manigaud’s choice of imagery is based on monumental historical moments of the modern age. For this exhibition Manigaud has returned to his ongoing war series, which to date has included depictions of WWI trench warfare; WWI injured soldiers; and WWII bombed cities. Focusing on the impact of war in his homeland, Tranchée de Calonne is a devastating drawing over two metres wide that depicts the skeletal remains of soldiers killed near the famous road, which was a site of ferocious fighting during WWI and represented for some time the eastern French front.         

British artist Hugh Mendes was born on Armistice Day in a British military hospital in Germany. His mother was a military nurse and his father a British Intelligence code breaker. Mendes is recognized for his paintings of newspaper pages, where he has continued to relentlessly track and transcribe obituaries and war stories. Mendes approaches WWI with irony and scepticism, choosing to focus on the absurd and whimsical, but with underlying pathos. His obsessive paintings are a personal reflection on the obsessions of the media. Sgt. Stubby, for example, is a recreation of a photograph of WWI’s most decorated war dog, who served 18 months in the trenches of France serving the US army. Stubby was decorated for, amongst other things, saving injured comrades in no man’s land, capturing German spies and detecting gas attacks.    

In combination these artists will form a thought provoking exhibition that ruminates on the meaning and effects of war.

Image: Sgt.Stubby by Hugh Mendes © 2014

The Great War: Harold de Bree, Florian Heinke, Eric Manigaud, Hugh Mendes –  Charlie Smith:  Friday February 14th – Saturday March 22nd 2014 – 336 Old Street, London EC1V 9DR , United Kingdom  Wednesday–Saturday 11am–6pm or by appointment


, , , , ,