Interview with Chris Agnew

I saw Chris’s work a while back at  an east end space  off Vyner Street called the Wayward Gallery. It was the 16th Feb 2011. I was intrigued by his  paintings barely visible from the dimly lit room. I decided I would like to find out more.

I was interested in your inspiration. Is it true that you make work from ancient stories in Chile, then create images which could describe these accounts?  Are the stories merely a starting point in order to give you some kind of direction of what to depict?


The story behind my current works is essentially used as an over-arching metaphor for what my practice as a whole is concerned with.

‘In 1996 a Canadian explorer located a 150-foot megalithic monument on Robinson Crusoe Island (formerly known as Más a Tierra), over 600km off the coast of Chile. This monument is believed to have been carved by the Ancient Mayan civilization and research has concluded that this designates the only vantage point in the Western hemisphere where one can witness both the transit of Venus across the Sun, and a total solar eclipse 160 days later on November 13th 2012, signalling the end of the Great Mayan Calendar which has popularly been interpreted as the end of the world as we know it.’

In July 2010 I was invited by the explorer to join him on an expedition out to the island to witness a partial solar eclipse from this monument in preparation for the final total solar eclipse occurring next year. The purpose of this project (and my practise) is to illustrate how we can locate and manipulate evidence that supports any theory regardless of its seeming infeasibility – even the end of the world.”

  My work forms an extension of Kierkegaard’s idea that belief is insufficient, we have to believe that we believe. I have always played with various slippages between fact and fiction – for example some of my earlier work was based around the various interpretations of the Titanic story.

The landscapes appear religious or tribal because of two things. They feature an upright stone which reminds me of ancient stone circles or totem poles and then they appear to be highlighted, by bright geometric patterns which reference a human presence or a human intervention.

The ‘tribal’ iconography that you saw in the works are based on Mayan carvings found on particular temples. The works ‘Syzygy I & II’ for example, feature a cross motif that can be found on temples built by the Mayan King Chan Balum – who is believed to have built the monument on Robinson Crusoe Island – and these crosses may also be clues that point towards the location of the island. A ‘syzygy’ is an alignment of three or more celestial bodies, for example a total solar eclipse.

 Are you interested in shifts in translation, such as verbal or historic, cultural or traditional into pure (unrelated) images or how it translates from culture to culture? How much of the original source is important to you?

  With regards to your question about the ‘shifts in translation’ and how much of the original source material is still important; naturally the original source is always important however in my practise it is by no means as important as what it produces, like when looking at a plant we rarely consider the seed from which it grew but instead only survey the slightly differing fruits that it yields.

 The paintings create strong contrasts, such as natural forms contrasting withloose mark making and also etched surfaces alongside  tight and raised edges of  bold colours. I wanted to ask more about this. Why you have nature confronting what appears to me as flooring, or wallpaper?

This point also relates to your question about the ‘natural’ elements being juxtaposed with the artificiality of the geometric tiling; every natural element and process is underlined by a pattern, a system through which it has come into existence and operates in relation to other elements it comes into contact with. The deciphering of these patterns – eg. the golden ratio – has been one of our main obsessions for thousands of years. The inclusion of the geometric areas beside the natural forms within the works points towards this relationship.

 Chris Agnew exhibited in the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2010

Chris Agnew’s website:


This show is so worth checking out. Grayson Perry has raided the British Museum collection and has created an exhibition merging world art and his own. The celebrity of the exhibition is a character called ALAN MEASLES which is a bear from Grayson’s childhood. Alan is turned into a God and is featured in various guises and positions of responsibility,  as a protector, as a threat, as a comfort and as a
 a figure that needs to be appeased. The artist has highlighted how people worship, celebrate, love, remember, cherish objects and artefacts in similar ways through out the world and throughout history. He brings together beautiful aesthetic styles from different cultures and displays them alongside one another to create new and exciting associations. This man is a genius. I have been waiting to see such an amazing and thought provoking show that seems to hit the zeitgeist nail of the modern world firmly on its head.

Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2011: In the Presence

Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2011: In the Presence 23 November 2011 – 15 January 2012

The artists selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2011: In the Presence are Marie Angeletti, Cornelia Baltes, Joshua Bilton, Sarah Brown, Savinder Bual, David Buckley, Leah Capaldi, Alicja Dobrucka, Tomas Downes, Peles Empire, Katie Goodwin, Kate Groobey, Noel Hensey, Anna Ilsley, Kim Kielhofner, Minae Kim, Se-jin Kim, Sui Kim, Ute Klein, Hyewon Kwon, Ian Marshall, Georgina McNamara, Sophie Neury, Rasmus Nilausen, Nick Nowicki, Marco Palmieri, Selma Parlour, George Petrou, Yelena Popova, Jessica Sarah Rinland, Anne Kathrin Schuhmann, Dagmar Schurrer, Alison Stolwood, Jonathan Trayte, David Ben White, Samuel Williams, Lisa Wilkens, Poppy Whatmore, Hyun Woo Lee and Rafal Zawistowski.

Jonathan Trayte

Peles Empire

DOMO BAAL-Mhairi Vari: Domain

Hub – John Street
Gazing Ball, hot–melt glue, desk, twigs* 250(h)×180×180cm 2011, photo by Andy Keate
*twigs gathered from Aleppo, Alghero, Amsterdam, Ananas Berg, Antwerp, Birmingham, Bloomsbury, Bremen, Brighton, Brussels, Chelsea, Cologne, Damascus, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Essen, Exeter, Finale Ligure, Genoa, Hatay, Istanbul, Kasikasima, Münster, Orvieto, Palmyra, Palumeu, Paramaribo, Paris, Rome, Seven Sisters, South Norwood, Venice, Victoria Park, Wilhelmshaven.

After a visit to the Charlie Dutton Gallery, we swung by Domobaal, which was actually shut for christmas, but the gallery owner kindly let us take a look at Mhairi Vari’s exhibition.

The work was installed by the artist in the gallery over a period of two weeks. There will also be a dismantling party, where visitors will help collapse, destroy, remove the artwork in some manner to celebrate the end of this particular exhibition.

I really enjoyed the sculptures. They seemed very festive, like unusual christmas trees and decorations. They were fun, unpretentious and enjoyable to look at. I liked the combinations of organic and uncontrolled textures in relation to the smooth gazing balls and marbles. 
Quote from Domoball press:

“Vari is attempting to develop a sculptural language that reflects the instability, fragility and vulnerability of our physical and digital worlds. In search of the contemporary location of the sublime in vast virtual spaces, final outcomes can only be arrived at through an extensive and obstinate process of material play.”

This sculpture was really impressive. In the centre, was a large gazing ball, surrounded by a woven mesh of branches collected from many places over the world. A hot glue gun was used to create the coloured threads, which in places were so fine and  delicate, they were like sewing thread. The sculpture was placed on top of an antique desk.

Mhairi Vari: Domain is on from 19.11.11 – 17.12.11 extended between 12.01.12 – 21.01.12



Thursday to Saturday 12 to 6pm

and at other times by appointment

Charlie Dutton Gallery

This is a really lovely space, with exposed timber and fireplace in a beautiful old building along Princeton Street.  I visited the week before christmas to see a group show, ‘Crash Open Salon Show’,  which is up until 21st Jan 2012. There is a range of work on display using interesting techniques and surfaces. Many artists are recent graduates from London colleges, such as the RCA. 

Artwork for the exhibition, was selected by:

Matthew Collings – Art Writer, Broadcaster & Artist
Toby Clarke – Gallerist, Curator & director of VIGO in Mayfair
Dan Hays – Artist
Mike Silva – Artist


Exhibition runs from the 9th December – 21st January 2012
Open on wed – fri 11-6 & sat 11-2pm

Gallery address:
1a Princeton Street,