Sarah Gillespie And Sarah Sze: Top West End Gallery Exhibitions February 2015

Marlene Dumas

Take a walk in the area between Oxford Street down towards Green Park, and although Galleries have come and gone, the ones that remain are showing some very good contemporary work.

The Frith Street Gallery just off Soho Square is showing Marlene Dumas and Juan Munoz. I had started the day at the Dumas show at Tate Modern which apart from the surprisingly bad painting of Princess Diana is full of wonderful drawings and paintings and an interesting overview of her work. In retrospect these drawings at Frith Street should have been my aperitif not dessert! Go to this show before the Tate.

Like Dumas, Juan Munoz has long been interested in the human body and his mouth drawings match perfectly with Dumas’ work. Her disembodied lovers’ heads, Two Lovers 1994, melting dissolving into each other and three recent drawings, One, Together and French Kiss, all close up, focus on the mouth so that it becomes erotically sexualized.   Munoz continues this edgy theme in heavy black oil stick; stark delineations of an isolated mouth, floating at the bottom of a sheet of paper, lips invitingly parted or closed, cracked, suggestive of silence.

The Ronchini Gallery in Dering Street is a bit of a secret and undeservedly less well known than it should be. They are currently showing some beautiful work by Italian artist Pier Paolo Calzolari who has been loosely associated with the Arte Povera movement but departs from that movement’s philosophy in his engagement with the history of art. There is an interesting paleness to these paintings which links to Marlene Dumas’ palette but there are far removed in intention and imagery. Wires and objects detach themselves from the beautifully painted surfaces, sides encased in zinc, making these paintings sculptural, objectified.  There is humour too in a model train that travels interminably backwards and forwards supporting a feather which passes across the canvas leaving it unmarked.

The Mira Schendel Monotypes at Hauser and Wirth, Saville Row are beautiful. Finding a stash of Japanese tissue paper Schendel started making marks and forming letters using the technique of monoprint.  The result is beautiful lines, so simple and so expressive, thickening and thinning with the lovely slightly blurred edges characteristic of this particular one off print process. Arranged in installation form in the centre of the gallery, fourteen more drawings are sandwiched between glass so that they can be viewed from both sides – a little disorientating.  Almost like a sculpture, a row of single sheets suspended, pinned on wire, flutter, light as feathers, moving in the slight breeze of a breath blown. More of these fragile works are lined up alongside each other in vitrines all around the windowed edges of the gallery. It is like gorging, page after page on the most beautiful book.

Sarah Gillespie’s drawings at Beaux Arts 48 Maddox Street are meticulous tortuous even.  They are superbly crafted, deep blacks of ink and charcoal interrupted by cross-hatched tender marks that stroke the paper.  A bend in the River feels Japanese in its concentration on trees and the still contemplative nature of its beautiful composition, the highly dramatic tones of intense solid black and lightly marked areas of grey, indulge, Manet-like in half tones. In A love as old as water, the black and brown charcoal creates a palpable sense of depth and a layering that is almost abstract.

Legions of art students have had their dead bird/insect phases but Gillespie reanimates her subjects.  Her Dragonfly and Tiger moths are exquisite and the drama of nighttime and the fuzziness of the Alder and Ermine moths’ furry bodies is beautifully captured by the velvety richness of mezzotint. Her songbirds and blackbirds are alive and going about their birdy business, Coot has wonderfully drawn prehensile feet and My heart is a wounded Crow heartbreakingly expresses the birds lost independence.

Around the corner from Beaux Arts is Victoria Miro who is currently showing work by Sarah Sze across all three of their London Galleries.  The Show at St George Street, a sea of small sculptures filling the space, is wonderfully full of air and light and contradictions. A reference to Alexander Calder seems inevitable and at least one of these small pieces is kinetic.  I tried blowing on one or two others but nothing moved!  Titled ‘Models’ they are not actually maquettes but works in their own right and as such touch that raw nerve which drawing artists are familiar with, the idea that as studies for something else they somehow have less gravitas.  These are seriously serious and pull together so many references; the domestic, the broken, the fragile, the ephemeral, the contemplative, the natural world, the collecting of things which take the eye but whose only value is in the memory and their relationship to the collector and other collected things.

Model for a passing thought does take an image from one of Sze’s larger sculptures and reintroduces it as a sliver-thin slice of a clipper sailing ship with ladders and disintegrating edges so fragile that you question how it can possibly remain upright.  Add a broken eggshell, a pen and pencil imprisoned by layers of sand their potential words censored and the whole supported on a base of jagged broken wine glass and the unpicking of all of it is like piecing together long forgotten memories.  Throughout these works Sze has mixed small stones with spoons, delicate budded twigs, a bird’s nest, clamps and pegs. They are poetry, food for thought. It is extraordinary how such a seemingly random collection of objects and such delicate constructions can be so powerfully suggestive and evocative.

There seem to be connections in this disparate work shown in these very different galleries.  Are they in tune with a zeitgeist that is dictating a rejection of bombast, pyrotechnics and big colour, or is it just coincidence? Superficially there is gentleness, a cool fragility almost a sense of mourning, perhaps for life itself, but the quietness is deceptive. These works exude confidence and a tensile strength that is empowering.

Words/Photo: Fiona Robinson © Artlyst 2015


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