Thursday, 18 January 2018

Arabella Dorman: Suspended

"Suspended seeks to highlight the situation of thousands of refugees - men, women and children fleeing war, persecution and famine for the hoped-for safety of European shores... hung between loss and hope, suspended between a past to which they cannot return and a future to which they cannot move."

To St James's Church, Piccadilly to see this impressive installation - Suspended - by Arabella Dorman. It consists of 700 items of clothing and shoes, now artfully hung above the central nave space in St James's. The clothes formerly belonged to refugees, and were salvaged by war artist Dorman from the beaches of the Greek Island of Lesbos. Suspend was created as a way of bringing the refugee crisis back into the spotlight at Christmas time, and as a way of raising funds for the Starfish Foundation (here). It is a really poignant installation, especially the children's tiny clothes and shoes. Little ones should never have to experience situations like this. One can't help but recall those heartbreaking photos of the body of three year old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi on the beach having lost his life after drowning on the journey to Kos as his family fled the war in Syria. There is a section at the back of the church where visitors are invited to examine and handle some of the collected refugee clothes. St James's is a beautifully historic church designed by Christopher Wren. It was consecrated on 13th July 1684, and contains some superb examples of wood carving by Grinling Gibbons. William Blake was also baptised here in 1757. Suspend is a really thought provoking installation, and a great use of art in a sacred space. It is a timely reminder of our inhumanity towards one another, and a reminder to do better, and be kinder. 

Suspended: Arabella Dorman
until 8th February
St James's Church

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Ephrem Solomon: Silence

Another artist whose work I had not seen in London for some time is that of Ethiopian - Ephrem Solomon (here), so I felt compelled to make the journey to Wandsworth to see this show. This exhibition entitled Silence, is a meditation on loss, following the death of a family member of the artist. "I have experienced the silence in death... the fact remains that death is the end of life... or at least life as we know it. Death, dying and the afterlife are all surrounded by fear and apprehension," he explains. Despite what Solomon believes, other schools of thought demonstrate that life doesn't end, and that death is merely a transition from one state of being to another. With this exhibition -Silence, Solomon presents a powerful series of portraits of black men and women. I love the impenetrable, inky, opaque, blackness of these figures. They seem to wear their blackness as a bold statement. They really remind me of the exaggeratedly black figures populating the paintings of American artist Kerry James Marshall below, (and here). 

Kerry James Marshall - Untitled (Pink Towel) 2014

These new figures by Solomon though, are at turns defiantly confrontational, and at others world-weary and resigned. They have to bear the burden of their blackness and the black experience with all that that entails in this world. As a result of this the woodcuts here have now become politicised. Solomon is expressing a sense of Black Pride, depicting characteristically defiant symbols of the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, such as slogans and clenched fists. Some of the woodblocks such as the picture below, resemble police mugshots, in which the young man has been targeted for his blackness alone perhaps. Or perhaps he knows too much about how certain corrupt police officers operate, what the police actually have working for them, and the interesting technologies they use to illegally target certain black men with surveillance. Perhaps.

In my previous post on Solomon I likened his woodcuts to the work of the German Expressionists. In these new works Solomon's woodcuts have evolved in scale, and appear to have achieved the sophistication, and economy of line, of the linocuts of Matisse with their fluid, negative line technique. The shot of colour used in the background texts gives the pictures a needed lift and contrasts with the solemnity of the black figures. The snippets of text also provide abstract pattern. Solomon's signature motif of chairs, representing authoritarian regimes, still make appearances in some of the pictures accompanied by bananas, or upturned with footprints stamped across the background, suggestive of corruption and political turmoil. I really like Solomon's unusual woodcut technique, and look forward to seeing in which direction Solomon takes his work next.

Henri Matisse - Pasiphae Portfolio, 1944

Ephrem Solomon: Silence
until 3rd February
Kristin Hjellegjerde
533 Old York Road

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Kehinde Wiley: In Search Of The Miraculous

I hadn't seen any of American Kehinde Wiley's paintings for a long time (here), so I made the effort to catch this exhibition of new works. These latest works are a series of seascapes and a slight departure from his usual imagery in that they attempt to capture action and movement, and in most of them the sea, and not the figure, appears to be the main focus. It is good to see Wiley challenging himself and varying his iconography, but the results are mixed, and not completely convincing or satisfactory. They are inspired by the seascapes of Turner and Winslow Homer - two of the biggest names in that particular genre of art. To cite them as an influence requires a lot of chutzpah, and you had better make sure your own work is up to the comparison. 

The three pictures below, in which the figures dominate the picture frame are more typical of Wiley's work, and more successful as paintings. The harsh lighting, although flattering, and perhaps necessary in depicting the subtle nuances of the range of black skin tones, makes the figures look as though they have been photoshopped onto the backgrounds rather than actually being in the landscape. This may be intentional though, as it is a device (and pitfall), which has been used by many artists since the Renaissance.

Across the street at the other Stephen Friedman Gallery space, you can see the other latest development in Wiley's output - film. Narrenschiff captures on three screens, images of young black men swimming off the coast of Haiti, accompanied by quotes from Foucault and Frantz Fanon about the effects of colonialism.

Kehinde Wiley: In Search Of The Miraculous
until 27th January
Stephen Friedman Gallery
25-28 Old Burlington Street