Alvaro Barrington, Lydia Blakeley, Nicholas Cheveldave, Gina Fischli, Henrik Potter, Zeinab Saleh, Sherman Mern Tat Sam, Gal Schindler, Sean Steadman, Tom Worsfold, Joseph Yaeger, Vivien Zhang. Curated by Robert Spragg.
September 26–November 28, 2020
“what painting really can do is represent, even theorize, the circulation of pictures – and by ‘pictures’ I mean commoditized images as they arise in mass media of all types ranging, in our period, from television to the internet. We know that appropriation was aimed at indexing the ‘life of pictures’. But it did so in a very severe way, which in fact made the displacement from one context to another – art to advertising, for instance – clean and unambiguous. Whereas in painting, what you see from Robert Rauschenberg to the present is that commoditized images are put into circulation in time and space, and move at different rates. Many of the questions animating conceptual art with regard to changing values of visual knowledge have been explored in painting, but I don’t think this has been sufficiently recognized”.
- David Joselit, Different Strokes, Frieze Magazine
In the accompanying catalogue to Sturtevant’s 2014 MOMA exhibition ‘Double Trouble’, Peter Eleey, the show’s curator recalls how in 1967 Sturtevant created the idea for a television with a conscious ‘visual memory’, which she proposed to Billy Kluver and Robert Rauschenberg’s collaborative project ‘Experiments in Art and Technology’. In doing so, Sturtevant was hypothesising a “machine that receives and visualises images broadcast as signals from elsewhere - and that can accrue such images over a fixed period of time, in time, transmitting them onwards”.
Just under two decades later, Andy Warhol at the suggestion of his studio assistant Jay Shriver, began creating oversized Rorschach paintings on canvas. This late career move into gestural abstraction, was a strategic pivot away from the mechanically produced works of his past, which had been so prolifically reproduced by other artists, most famously, Sturtevant. Warhol’s Rorschachs were a remark through making, on an abundance of images, an excess of eddying cultural signals and signs, yet, was a methodology Sturtevant had devised years before.
‘after image’ brings together twelve UK based artists, whose work is informed by and in some cases visually examines the circulation of images in painting. A painted mark or gestures transference of value is equivalent to the simultaneous relocation of an ‘image’ into paint. As an action-image, both are linked - as an image becomes a process, a process becomes an image.
Born in Venezuela to Haitian and Grenadian parents, raised in Grenada, then Brooklyn, Alvaro Barrington’s multidisciplinary practice combines his personal heritage with art history. In his celebratory, community focused work Barrington chooses materials for their associative cultural and historical value. He frequently takes from the work of others, for example his tree paintings recall Albert Oehlen’s own tree series, his use of yarn, is a nod to the women in his family who taught him how to stitch, and his unique way of combining and collaging visual references acknowledges his love of comic books as much as the work of the late artist Robert Rauschenberg. Barrington’s work is also on display as part of the group exhibition - ‘A Focus on Painting’ at Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, London, until 21 October 2020.
Lydia Blakeley’s paintings depict a multitude of subjects, commentating on the general discontinuity of the images she is exposed to daily. As Blakeley remarked in an interview with Elephant magazine, “The source imagery for the inspiration behind the paintings seems to almost always originate from the digital life I spend online”. Notable, is her keenly felt ability to analyse contemporary behaviour, especially the more comedic and eccentric. The shift in tone, mood and scale between each painting is comparable to any period of time spent on the internet, where you can encounter the profound, the surreal and the banal, in quick succession. Blakeley is currently included in the Hayward Gallery open-air exhibition ‘Everyday Heroes’, which continues until November 2020.
Nicholas Cheveldave uses photography, painting, collage and sculpture to consistently question the methods and means by which visual economies can determine our wider understanding of cultural identity. Included in the exhibition is a new series of monochromatic painted collages which combines analogue and digital processes. Images (both taken by and found by Cheveldave) are manipulated, abstracted, printed and then fixed to the surface of the canvas, printed images in the now sentimental 4 x 6 inch format foreground these more discernible background scenes, which though unoccupied, leave a tangible sense of their occupants, and provoke pathos via an uncanny familiarity. Superimposed and collaged onto each painting is a digitally created four leaf clover, then finally sweeping finger marks of glitter are applied to the surface - a corporeal underscoring of the digital processes which precede it.
Gina Fischli’s practice in sculpture, painting and drawing consciously uses distinct and often kitsch materials, for example using icing and cake decorating material to create miniature castle sculptures, as well as painting with glitter on marine and birch plywood. Fischli’s previous work has undermined the modernist seriousness of Joseph Albers’ homage to the square paintings, in this exhibition Fischli presents symbols of consumption, such as soft drink bottles, champagne glasses and laughing gas canisters. Objects which offer comfort, and the potential for a momentary cheap thrill and vice. Her use of glitter on plywood, speaks not only of the material’s ease to source and cheapness, but a beauty of sorts in her view. With a background in stage design, Fischli’s glitter paintings on plywood have the makeshift quality of stage sets, like an artist’s impression traced from memory. Here, casually placed on the floor, leaning against the wall.
Henrik Potter’s ‘apologies…’ painting series examines how we as individuals honour the artworks and images that come to possess personal resonance to each of us. Produced with intuition and speed, Potter takes from sources at hand, and those he has built up for some time, from Renaissance painting to the work of his peers. Intentionally small in scale, their size conveys a degree of intimacy that speaks of transit, an acknowledgment of the process of transference the original source material has undergone. Each title in this series honours the artist who inspired the piece, just as the painting itself acts as a form of ‘quotation’. The frames are notable for their impasto surface, which heightens the painting's haptic, object-like quality.
Zeinab Saleh’s interdisciplinary practice explores the themes of personal memory, cultural identity, and intimacy. Saleh paints from a mixture of her own video recordings, family footage and found images, using acrylic, oil paints and charcoal on canvas and fabric. A distinct matte green paint is reused throughout her paintings as a base, as are patterned fabrics previously used/ or worn by family as a canvas - giving her source material a personally resonant surface. Eyes and hands appear frequently in Saleh’s paintings. Valuing the ability of gesturing hands and observing eyes to create a bodily language, these simple forms speak directly to human connection, and collective experience, evoking a multiplicity of viewing perspectives. Narrative is alluded to, but never fully disclosed.
Sherman Mern Tat Sam’s practice starts with one large sheet of plywood, which he cuts down into irregular pieces, finally sanding and priming the surface of each. Working with oil paints, he is known for his joyous colour palette and very personal improv technique, where modest staccato marks might sit alongside swatches of sweeping impasto areas of paint. Often beginning with a single gesture, whether say a zigzagging mark of a brush or simple repeated shape, each painting takes time to reveal itself, often put to one side and revisited when the time is right. With this contingent belief in process, every mark has equal value, Sam acknowledges the one that comes before and after. Sam is currently included in the Hayward Touring exhibition ‘Slow Painting’, curated by Martin Herbert.
Gal Schindler confronts the often conflicting way women’s bodies are represented in contemporary culture. Her paintings are populated by strong, solitary figures who convey a tangible sense of their own agency. Via a process of subtraction, Schindler creates each figure by scoring into a wet top layer of paint, revealing a contrasting underpainted colour. With dynamic and angular mark making, this technique lends her paintings a kinetic energy. Her sources, which range from Ancient Mesopotamian-Semitic figurines to more contemporary images, lead Schindler’s women to take on an indeterminate timelessness. Inspired by writing on the female body and its various relationships to water and liquids, Schindler’s subjects evoke fluidity and translucency. Schindler’s figures are not depictions but rather embodiments of materiality, subverting notions of not only what it is to be gazed at, but how it might be possible for one’s image to become fluid.
Sean Steadman relinquishes control to the image itself. By removing intentionality, he encourages the unintended effects that an unconscious process might elicit. Steadman will often rotate a painting mid way, or remove whole areas of detail, in order to constantly shift and refresh his perspective at a given moment. Using oil on canvas, his paintings possess a unique lexicon of synthetic forms, symbols and non-representational shapes. Shapes which speak of transit, energy conduits and material manifolds. In Steadman’s voluminous paintings, material twists and turns, upwards, across, down and through three-dimensional space. Apertures bore through the painting, recalling the sculptural work of American artist Lee Bontecou. Steadman’s work is one of contingency, one as much about the act of painting, as what it is to create a new image.
For Tom Worsfold the painted body is a vessel capable of behaving like a set of abstract signs, fragments of raw information. Via this approach, Worsfold is able to push the possibilities of illustrative figuration. In a departure from previous work where the body was often part of a kinetic tableaux or set piece, in this new work, the body is in solitude, in greater focus, filling a greater portion of the composition. Large rounded foreheads, pursed lips, and sharply defined contours of skin encase anonymous figures. Painting with acrylic onto raw flax for the first time, Worsfold achieves a remarkable luminosity, the figures each a shade of burnt orange and other earthly tones appear to be back lit. In Worsfold’s painting light and shade is illustrated with graphic sharpness. With the feeling of cyphers, these bodies connote an unquiet quietness. Worsfold’s solo exhibition ‘The Sleepers’ at Block 336, Brixton is on display until 24 October.
Joseph Yaeger’s paintings are characterised by his unique use of watercolour on thickly primed canvas - applying the watercolour at speed and expressively. Sourcing his imagery from film stills, his own photography, stock images and news media. Yaeger is constantly seeking to understand his attraction to a chosen image, simultaneously, in the resulting painting he seeks to displace and locate the image somewhere entirely new, a constant process of actively ‘dissolving context’. As Yaeger notes “..the subject of the painting then is in many ways its act—the painting itself evidence of whatever was discovered within the image. Another way of putting this might be that the photograph or source material is inherently without, while the act of painting the photograph draws it within”. Yaeger encourages the possibilities of pentimento, by often painting over old paintings, a spectral remainder of the previous painting will often resurface, furthermore the use of watercolour on thick gesso often results in areas of cracking or ‘craquelure’. In his words, this reflects two things; “(1) time moving through an image itself... and (2) a retention of some indefinable valence from the previous painting(s)”. Yaeger’s solo exhibition ‘Power Ballads’ is currently on display at V.O Curations, until 3 October.
Vivien Zhang’s paintings take inspiration from subjects as diverse as modern architecture, mathematics, and geology. Examining how our digital lives inform and mirror our experience of the material world, Zhang looks at how painting can function as a ‘site for assemblage’. In Zhang’s words “...motifs taken from different contexts assemble, converge, and collide in the space of the canvases, creating new ‘open networks’ (Umberto Eco). I see this as a reflection of our reality – being digital natives we are constantly overloaded with visual stimuli". The first of two featured paintings contains depictions of written language, including parentheses and asterisks, alongside renderings of an ‘echinoidea’, a sea creature, whose form Zhang has taken from 19th century illustrations. The second work, an elongated painting intended to be read vertically, functions as a simulation of our contemporary comfort with ‘scrolling’ downwards. Featuring the mathematical form of the ‘Gömböc’ - a recurring element of Zhang’s work, the painting is divided vertically into four quadrants, in each quadrant, the form is governed by an algorithm which determines its resulting shape and position, to the naked eye, it resembles a glitching image, in the course of abstraction.