A round up of the current and upcoming gallery exhibitions around the UK chosen and introduced by Martin Holman for Newlyn School of Art e-newsletter subscribers.
Hurvin Anderson: Salon paintings
HEPWORTH WAKEFIELD, 26 MAY – 5 NOVEMBER 2023
‘It’s only in painting that you can do everything you want.’ – Hurvin Anderson
Hurvin Anderson, Flat Top, 2008. © Hurvin Anderson. Courtesy the artist and
Thomas Dane Gallery. Photo: Hugh Kelly
The ‘salon’ in question is a barbershop in Birmingham which Hurvin Anderson used to visit with his father. Thirty years later, he returned as an artist to experience the nostalgia of the place and to observe the venue in real time. Anderson viewed this barbershop as a time capsule, an example of how Caribbeans created these small community institutions that didn’t exist before West Indians settled into their new lives in Britain. Barbershops such as this one are places where people eat, talk and connect in a familiar, contained setting.
This show reflects in microcosm, through one specific theme, Anderson’s broader exploration of growing up in England while at the same feeling the pull of family ties across the Atlantic. The artist often works from photographs as prompts to memory, and that sets up a sense of displacement that recurs in his work. Apparent above all is Anderson’s particular visual language, which moves between figuration and abstraction.
Every aspect of these works, made at intervals between 2006 and the present, seem to fit into some wider context of yearning, deep feeling, longing, alienation. He applies thin washes to generate a ‘push-pull’ between foreground and background: the foreground can seem obstructive – like a keep out sign – yet the viewer wants to push beyond, as Anderson knows full well, to take in the often lush paintwork, traces of landscape and architecture, and the disconcerting editing of real space.
Aubrey Williams: Future Conscious
OCTOBER GALLERY, LONDON 15 June – 29 July 2023
Aubrey Williams, Carib Ritual IV, 1973, oil on canvas, 103 x 120 cm.
Courtesy October Gallery/© Aubrey Williams Estate
Aubrey Williams drew inspiration from American and British abstract expressionism (especially Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock), the music of Shostakovich, science fiction and, perhaps most of all, from the indigenous and ancient cultures of Central and South America. His career as a painter was lived out in a similarly broad spread of locations: in Britain, his native Guyana, Jamaica and Florida. Unaccountably it now seems, he faced ‘institutional indifference’ to his work in the 1970s and 1980s and while that attitude has now changed, it came about too late for Williams to enjoy, since he died in 1990.
The major renewal of interest in his work has seen his work appear in the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Barbican, London and, most recently at Tate Britain, a room has been given over to examples of his work. This solo show at the October Gallery comprises of a selection of recently discovered paintings and works on paper.
One reason Williams’s critical fortunes have risen is the prescience identified in his subject matter. As a trained agronomist, his work took him into the Guyanese interior, an extraordinary environment of rainforest, savannah, mountain ranges and waterfalls. That atmosphere pervades his painting which has a sultry, mysterious and almost night-time quality conveyed by passages of shifting colour in a non-objective setting. The region he knew was biodiverse and a centre of white settler extractivism. Williams anticipated the cataclysm of polluted oceans, rising carbon emissions and advancing pandemics, scenarios strongly sensed in his canvases.
There is every cause to consider him a visionary of ecological futurism. Above all, however, his work remains simply very interesting for its time. During his extensive travels in Europe, he met Picasso, Camus and others and became a known figure in the post-war British avant-garde art scene, challenging the historic white dominance of the British art establishment.
To Bend the Ear of the Outer World: Conversations on contemporary abstract painting
GAGOSIAN, 20 GROSVENOR HILL AND 17–19 DAVIES STREET, LONDON
1 JUNE – 25 AUGUST 2023
‘The birth of my painting practice is … incorporating the physical (drawing and mark-making) with the romanticism and the allure of painting.’ – Oscar Murillo
Jadé Fadojutimi, And willingly imprinting the memory of my mistakes, 2023, acrylic, oil, oil pastel, oil stick on canvas, 300 x 500 cm. Courtesy Gagosian. © The artist. Photography by Mark Blower
The summer months tend to bring forth group shows from the commercial galleries to see them through the holidays until the autumn season when the market picks up and art fairs beckon. As summer stock exhibitions go, this one contains many pleasures. There are 41 artists from North and South America, the UK and Germany, and most of the work is new or very recent. Among them are mega-names like Gerhard Richter and Brice Marden, each represented by a single work, usually on a large scale. Also there are less familiar players of abstraction who, by comparison with the big figures, perhaps come through strongest of all.
Among them is Oscar Murillo, who is on his way to global status but still has to cement his reputation. In his large canvases, tensions between quality of materials and the boldness, even scrappiness of their application activates these surfaces in a physical way. In the past, big black canvases have been beaten repeatedly against the wall and the encounter with or the impact on the audience is one of the strongest properties of Murillo’s work.
Born in Colombia, he grew up in the UK and studied in London. A sense of freedom, diversity and travel infuses his work. Evident, too, is Murillo’s awareness of tradition and western art history.
From California, John Zurier started painting at Berkeley when he was studying landscape architecture. Space is a feature of his monochrome canvases – space within the surface of the painting, and space between painting and the viewer. His work depicts nothing but it appears ‘exposed’ in a very human way, exuding that curious emotional connection that can exist between an artwork and whoever looks into it. Colour, light and space are the key factors here. Zurier describes his paintings as ‘Things moving in time within the surface and very slowly.’
Jadé Fadojutimi is based in London and makes large paintings with their foundations in drawing and mark-making. There appears to be a sense of liberation in her enjoyment of drawing that translates into painting. Is there any plan at the outset? It appears not: the surface marks appear intuitive, as does the colour. Materiality is uppermost and there are flashes of figuration – eyes, hands? As a teenager she was fascinated with the hand-drawn, computer-animated Anime from Japan. According to Fadojutimi: ‘the paintings decide where they want to go whether you ready for it or not’, and her work is rather wonderful.
Anselm Kiefer: Finnegan’s Wake
White Cube, 144 – 152 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3TQ 7 June – 20 August 2023
‘History speaks to artists. It changes the artist's thinking and is constantly reshaping it into different and unexpected images.’ – Anselm Kiefer
Anselm Kiefer, Liffey, 2023, emulsion, oil, acrylic, shellac, sediment of electrolysis, gold leaf and charcoal on canvas, 380 x 570 cm. Courtesy White Cube, © The artist
As a young artist in the west in 1969 Anselm Kiefer dared to make art that looked at Germany’s recent history. In the 25 years since the end of World War II the country’s attention had been focused on building a new society, economy and democracy. Young Germans were surprisingly ignorant of the Nazi era, even though it was likely that their teachers or many others in important bureaucratic roles had served the regime.
“When, at the end of the 1960s, I became interested in the Nazi era, it was a taboo subject in Germany,” says Kiefer. “No one spoke about it anymore, no more in my house than anywhere else.” Born in 1945, Kiefer grew up in a ruined country, living in the building next to his destroyed family’s home. He had bomb sites for playgrounds. He says that experience made him the artist he is: “one who has excavated the bomb site of modern history.”
In his large-scale paintings or recent sculptures, the weight of history is viscerally palpable; they do not separate art and politics. The installation at London is gigantic. The corridor entrance is lined with shelving filled with items from his huge collection of objects amassed over decades of obsessive collecting and making. To this he has added his fascination with James Joyce’s novel, ‘Finnegan’s Wake’.
Traditional mythology, books and libraries are Kiefer’s main sources of inspiration. In this exhibition, Kiefer responds specifically to Joyce’s novel of 1939.
Just as Joyce splices together elements of other languages into a complex framework of word-play, Kiefer has created a complex assembly of Joycean inscriptions amongst
paintings and sculptures in the form of giant books with dusty lead pages, fields of rubble and wire and skeletal flowers.
Just as Wakes’ story lies buried under layers of wordplay, so Kiefer piles images of decay, exhaustion, abandonment across massive surfaces. The surprise element, however, is that Kiefer sees hope in the ruins, not despair, because they presage new structures in which a possibility exists of a better tomorrow. A flavour of this permeates the room of landscapes with their allusions to water, or romantic visions backed by gold like setting sun after a perfect day.
Rana Begum: Dappled Light
THE BOX, PLYMOUTH, 24 JUNE TO 24 AUGUST 2023
‘The idea of the infinite comes through in a lot of my work… it feels like there’s kind of never-ending aspect to it, and it could grow.’ Rana Begum
Rana Begum, No. 1081 Mesh, 2021, powder coated galvanised mild steel
Rana Begum is fascinated the experience of light – its colours, movement and shapelessness. For her, too, light prompts memories of being captivated by the play of light on the wall of a room or of the intense light she was aware of as a small child growing up in Bangladesh. She associates light, colour and space with peacefulness, with whiling away time in consideration of these phenomena and their beauty.
Begum attempts the difficult task of physically expressing the immaterial, of sharing those meditative and quiet moments in her work. The result often constitutes an intimate space where form weaves through light, surface and colour, blurring boundaries in its path between sculpture, painting and architecture, between inside and outside. She experiments with a variety of forms: vibrant acrylic geometric paintings on aluminium, a set of jesmonite panels that resemble miniature mountainous landscapes and a large-scale wall installation of metal moulds of differing sizes and forms evoking Istanbul’s period buildings.
In 2021, she ‘orchestrated’ a row of beach huts in Folkestone, as part of the town’s art Triennale, with colour, line in recurring patterns. Repetition, used in this way, can be calming and deepen the meditative atmosphere. The project was positive and joyful, linking these small structures with the light moving across the surface of sea, beach and landscape. At Plymouth the show includes an unevenly shaped, fine-mesh ‘clouds’ of colour suspended above the gallery floor. They ‘describe’ nothing other than a phenomenon; the viewer finds her or his own understanding.
To The Birds / Man Digging
EXETER PHOENIX, GANDY STREET, EX4 3LS, 15 JULY - 3 SEPTEMBER 2023
Exhibition tour and artist’s talk 2 September at 2pm
Dan Howard-Birt, The White Whale (what is sculpture anyway), 2021-22. Courtesy the artist.
Two distinct exhibitions that, side-by-side, explore what it is to make paintings and what it is to make exhibitions. Both shows are brought together by artist Dan Howard-Birt, who has gathered small paintings – his own and artworks by other painters – to fill a series of holes, cut into the surfaces of his own, larger stained or patterned paintings. By absorbing one painting into the specific context of another Howard-Birt disrupts the fixed sense of their meaning and even authorship. He questions what it is to make a painting, and whether one can make an exhibition within a painting?
In Man Digging spade-work is used as a metaphor for thinking about the actions and processes that form the rhythms of other painters’ studio work.
This metaphor of the artists life as repetitive toil, of digging, or turning-over, or excavating, or unveiling, is what binds the show together. The process of mixing up paint, pushing a brush, turning a canvas around or leafing through a pile of source material, is perhaps like tending an allotment – or digging trenches for the foundations for a building, or even metal detecting – one from which new and surprising things of value and beauty may eventually emerge.