STANDING ON THE FRONTIER
24 April 2014 – 8 May 2014
20 GREAT GUILDFORD STREET
Standing on the Frontier Vol 2 is the second exhibition curated by Takayuki Hara and myself, Noa Edwards. The first Standing on the Frontier was back in in 2010 at an artist run space called Madame Lilies in East London. I include an extract from an article written by Tom Ryland for Glass Magazine about our first show in 2010 as an introduction…
‘This band of artists, connected through friendship and the respect of each other’s practice, investigate their united subject matter with a similar obsession for detail and precision….”
“Reality is unbearable due to being already over-defined, fantasy is just as unbearable since it is irrelevant. I think the only possible option is to steer a course between the two, to allow fantasy to mix with reality. Only in this way can new ideas emerge and an individual viewpoint establish itself,” says Edward Todd.
His opinion can translate as the raison d’être for this very show. The artists involved have come together independently outside of the existing contemporary gallery system, to explore their secret borderlands and to invite an audience into a space in which to investigate a no man’s land – to stand on the frontier for themselves, listening out for what is being reported back.”
Tom Ryland 2010
The idea for the exhibition was to gather artists that explore the boundaries of the real and the imagination to varying degrees. I admit this is a rather broad idea and encapsulates what all artists do in some form or another; artists disrupt and interpret reality. The work in Standing on the Frontier moves from a hyper- precise rendering of reality fragments, but nonetheless alienated from an understandable context, to work that manufactures alternate worlds and creatures. The motivations of the artists is to transform what is normal or expected.
The title indicates reality as a frontier, with artists taking the viewer upon a meandering journey across the line that demarcate the boundary between the ‘mundane’ scenery of familiar places and the surreal landscapes of the individual mind.
I am in the space as I write this post, looking at the work around me. I am invigilating on a Saturday and it is quiet. I will soon go to The Tate Modern which is minutes away after and head to the Matisse exhibition, which I will find heaving with people reflecting upon his cut-outs, and peering intensely in to the glass display cabinets below. As I walk round the Matisse and then the Richard Hamilton too, I wished a small amount of these obvious art loving people would be intrigued enough by Robin Mason’s enormous painting hanging downstairs as they head back home or some place else.
Back in time, during the installation of the show, Mason’s painting gets lots of comments from the pavement. I hear laughter from outside, people even swearing and stopping to take photos. Almost everyone takes a double look as they walk past, at the giant pink one-eye deer staring right back at them. But, no one comes inside to take a closer look. Nor do the people collecting their dry cleaning have time to go up the twisty stair case. A welcoming sign, ‘exhibition continues upstairs’, fails to entice them, and perhaps why should it, except I know that interesting and accomplished artworks are on display and are worthy of a perusal no matter how brief.
The view over the balcony
I begin this post at the desk upstairs. Near the chair I am sitting on, there are two pieces by Chris Roantree, depicting turbulent ‘gothic’ etchings, cartoon-like and alien, scored and scratched with a multitude of marks. Is that a giant sea creature with multiple eyes tearing up from the sea, and a squirrel like creature embedded snuggly inside a spiked tree? He has a perfect command of this medium, able to balance intricacy and expression that mystified me. Chris Roantree exhibited also in the first Standing on the Frontier show.
Serrah Russell’s Polaroids, intimate in scale illustrate ‘a photo of a photo,’ or a portal to a parallel reality and thus question the boundaries of what should or could be beyond the photographic edge. I was first drawn to her work first when I came across her photographs at Charlie Dutton Gallery last year.
Russell utilises instant film, found imagery and digital photography to create works of collage that investigate the relationship between nature and the human experience. Juxtaposition of seemingly disparate imagery allows shrouded parallels to emerge within the pairings as new narratives echo and contrast individuals and their physical environment.
Bruce Ingram’s colourful collages made from cuttings, almost ‘pop-esque’ in their depictions of glamour, product fragments and magazine gloss finish, yet with the original context trimmed away, so that textures morph and hover as new configurations.
The creative output of the studio has become an integral theme within Ingram’s collaged paintings and assembled sculptures. Through the process of editing and selection, various painted marks and cut out paper shapes are salvaged from the studio floor and arranged in an abstract manner, His works encapsulate a specific time from the personal process of the artist’s studio.
Their position reflects an opposite stance to the more somber or is the word ‘austere’ work by Charlotte Bracegirdle in monochrome, depicting what appears to be formal photographs of famous writers upon postcards. Except the literary figures are unrecognizable, as most of the image is concealed with carefully matched slices of oil paint. The background thus becomes the area of focus, with an imagined continuation of possible lighting textures, which makes me reflect upon the qualities of image reproduction and printing methods instead of the figures depicted. A ghost of the original can just be seen, as I view the artwork from different angles.
Appropriation can be understood as “the use of borrowed elements in the creation of a new work.” In the visual arts, to appropriate means to properly adopt, borrow, recycle or sample aspects (or the entire form) of man-made visual culture. Derivative work is a work based upon one or more pre-existing works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgement, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a derivative work. The two descriptions above are the basis for my practice, I appropriate pre-existing images from Old Masters and 20th Century Photographic printed reproductions. I paint-out sections of the prints to reveal other aspects of the image. It changes the focus to new elements that were already present but not noticeable before.
In this room, there is a large photograph by Simon Hall, capturing the desolate beauty of ever-changing ice formations. He also exhibits a screen print in the next room; a merging of separate colour layers, intentionally mis-aligned so that the image is simultaneously formed and fragmented.
Chronicling a world produced by, and within, social and cultural environments,he records mankind’s uneasy, often catastrophic, relationship with nature, in works that he regards as both artistic and scientific. Reality is sometimes astonishing, but what we see today will be different tomorrow. A photograph can help us understand that change. Utilising photography and printmaking processes, I document mankind’s interaction with, and transformation of, the natural environment.
Also, my work is in this room, inspired by the Hannah Hoch exhibition at the Whitecube this year. I began to make my own, using cut ups from an old atlas I had bought in 1999 and art magazines that I had kept over the years.
Taka Hara’s images are complex, full of rhythm and intricate patterns and the impossible blackest pencil shading I have ever seen. A paper bear full of tiny burn holes floats inside a glass vitrine next to these images.
Takayuki Hara’s work evolves from the idea of shapeshifting: it is an antithesis of boundaries and intransigence of human tendencies. His unique ability lies within the transformation of this idea into graphic and intricate linear drawings or highly imaginative and beautiful sculptures embracing the often dark and sexual subject matters. His influence comes from various sources such as old master paintings to Japanese art and culture. After studying Freud, French philosopher Giles Deleuze became one of his strong influences. His seemingly eclectic collections of influences are tied together and well-digested, feeding his work visually and conceptually, creating the seamless sense in his work, transforming those differences into one new entity-unravelling a new potentiality of being..
Moving on are etchings by Laura Clark. The warm monochromatic work is beautifully complex, which somewhat anaesthetises me from the ‘disturbing’ subject matter.
Laura Clarke’s work explores the subconscious, the repressed and the departure from the human. She is very interested in the psychoanalytic theories revolving around the formation of desire, sexuality and power. Exploring stereotypes, gender roles, the uncanny, the macabre, category confusion, bestiality and hybridities that threaten our understanding of the world.
Susan Eyre, has two pieces in the show. One on the top floor where I presently stand and another as you climb the stairs behind the counter. Susan Eyre, currently a print maker at the Royal College of Art, is an artist that seems to specialise in unexpected techniques and material combinations, such as pictorial elements printed upon transparent fabric illuminated by internal lighting. I first saw her work at a print studio show in Guildford.
Susan Eyre explores commonly held ideals reflected in shared fantasies of archetypal romantic scenes and ideas of paradise. Drawing on cultural references and contemporary situations combined with traditions of landscape and Romanticism she makes work that blurs boundaries between the familiar and the imagined. Her practise engages with current debates on Western Society’s relationship to the natural world. Looking back through history to ancient times she is fascinated to discover an ongoing nostalgia for a time before humanity became detached from nature. She is interested in the source of this dislocation and the cultural impact of a relationship based on nostalgia.She is intrigued by theses fantasies and the analogies that can be drawn between nature and the mind, neither of which guarantees a safe haven.
I was equally delighted when Chris Agnew agreed to exhibit an artwork in Standing on the Frontier. I have been an admirer of his work since I saw it in a darkened room in Vyner street some years back.
His work is beyond meticulous in detail and so we decided to hang his work next to Lee Edwards’s pencil drawings. I interviewed both Chris Agnew and Lee Edwards previously and here are links to these posts which delve deeper into their artworks.
Lee Edwards’ work is so realistic it starts to become unreal. The forms he depicts are removed from any context so appear like mysterious floating objects. One part of the drawing is so heavily worked it is rippled with the obsessive layering of graphite.
A straightforward representation of a pile of clothes becomes an abstract form of texture and shadow. Slumped, discarded and hanging in the air, the relationship between person and clothes, presence and absence comes into play.
Chiho Iwase’s work is displayed both upstairs and downstairs in the gallery. Her art combines uncannily real body casts and sculpted elements seamlessly, creating uncharacteristically hard sculptures of soft toys. Although she describes them as ‘monstrous,’ I personally find them almost innocent and angelic and therefore quite comforting in their muted and delicate hues and shiny surfaces.
Her practice is motivated by the remains of her childhood fantasy and her attempt to express the situation in which infantilism uncontrollably comes out in her adulthood. Her sculptures consist of distorted images of her face and body parts as they are portraits of her inner monstrous characters. The conflict between maturity and childishness in her mind is projected in her sculptures as weird creatures.
Alex Fox is the creator of a wax sculptural piece in the show. A piece that is all of these: comical, disturbing, psychedelic and even ‘vibrating’ when people walk close by. He tells me that the long neck has a flexibility to it, so that it can be coated in a wax layer.
The inspiration for this piece is a print depicting fantastical apparitions, in this case a ‘woman with an extensible neck’, from Hokusai’s Manga – a visual digest of images concerning many aspects of life in Edo period Japan, including the demons, monsters and ghosts which featured in popular literature. Here the woman smokes a long pipe as her head floats languidly upward. Though the presumption is she is smoking opium, the head drifting off as the effects of the drug takes hold, she is more likely to be smoking tobacco as opium was rare in Japan. The authorities had tight control of imported goods were alert to the devastating effects of the drug – as witnessed in China, which came to be inextricably linked with the opium trade.
I walk to the last room and stand by Miho Sato’s work. The painting is intentionally ambiguous. Perhaps a child held up by someone else, in a sports day wheel barrow race, a gymnast? Detail and information have been omitted and the character of the person is masked, so the artwork exists in a place one step removed from the real world, almost like a ghost.
Miho Sato is something of a militant magpie for the information age. Borrowing at will from a variety of printed source matter, Sato liberates the images she chooses of the artificial facets that bind them to time, place and sentiment and gives them back to us devoid of detail. But there is a catch. In choosing to re-present familiar subjects, Sato forces us to confront just how complicit we are within the endless cycle of data reproduction. Rifling through other people’s histories, she is free to shine a light under the murkier aspects of contemporary image making. Through the process of adding conceptual flesh to the bones of these paintings we become responsible for the sum of our marketable parts, yet essentially remain the victims of an astute pictorial set-up
Hannah Williamson’s fragemented paper and globuls of paint are like edible sweet pancakes. The work is suspended in transition as petrified paint, yet also fragile as pock- marked paper shards thread themselves amongst the bright colours.
Next to hers, are four paintings by Richard Starbuck. Sweet, liquorice like bridges, sweep over icing sugared rock strata. Another playful work, depicts a possible transmitting device or a weather vane. His imagery is reminiscent of a retro computer game that you could also eat with their pastel sugary colours and textured surfaces.
‘Red Monument’ Oil on Linen 2014 Unknown
‘Red Monument(Adjusted)’ Oil on Linen 2014
‘Unknown Harvest(Monument Maker)’ Oil on Canvas
Harvest(Beta Version)’ Oil on Canvas 2014
His recent paintings have often presented brightly coloured, interconnecting shapes or repeating, distending patterns within a mutedly toned, wide-open lifeless landscape. These playful shapes start to resemble functional machines or implausible monuments that rest on thick painterly features. Heavily influenced by Science Fiction and the subject of UFOs, Starbuck creates subconscious, alien-like, mystical places with apocalyptic forms that flame the imagination.
Finally, and also back to the beginning, I return to the ‘father’ or the ‘mother’ piece. A huge floor to ceiling artwork by Robin Mason. When I first saw this painting, it blew my mind. It has elements of everything in marks, texture, composition and narrative. An eye candy piece where new things are revealed the more you look. The painting reminds me of an impossible De Chirico and Tanguy amalgamation. The work is full of complex memories and associations for Mason, that I discovered after a conversation we had when he was installing the work.
Born in Porthcawl, South Wales, his love of landscape and metaphor was nurtured in the atmosphere of a post Dylan Thomas seaside town on the Atlantic coast, dominated during the summer by its funfair and in the winter by the juxtaposition and jostling for supremacy of the sea, the land and the elements. A family holiday to Germany in 1968 later triggered an urge to re-enter those experiences, resulting in many journeys along the River Rhine to retrace the memories of that summer and to visit the Alsace where in Colmar the Isenheim Altarpiece, painted by Matthias Grunewld c.1515, has for more than a decade woven its way into his work, sublimated into surreal ecstatic and pressingly contemporary resolutions, the work merges his referencing of art history with his autobiographic tenure
So my meander through these artworks ends and I leave with a few shots from the opening night. Although I grumble about the quietness of this Saturday, Thursday was packed with friends and relatives. I was truly delighted by all the people that made an effort to come and see the work. It was a real pleasure.