Monday 30 March 2020

Becomings - an exhibition by CSM students

Teo Burki

It seems so long ago now since we were allowed to gather together to celebrate, well, anything, so before this splendid show disappears from the memory, here’s some impressions. Opening on 12 March at the A.P.T Gallery in Deptford, the private view was a well-attended affair with lots of bubbly, and sushi, that proved difficult to eat whilst practicing good CV hygiene. But, enough of the food and onto the art.

Curated by final year and some first year MA students at Central St. Martins, in what, as it turns out now, was in effect their final degree show, it was a sadly short-lived five day exhibition, but one that I am very glad I caught before virus precautions closed it. Twenty seven students showed a wide variety of work across all media from ceramic tiles, to stone carving, to painting and video.

I’m not going to comment on each person’s work, rather I want to highlight those pieces that particularly appealed to me. Art, it’s a taste thing. So, in no particular order:

Kathryn Gee (film) & Rowan Riley (textile) presented an interesting collaboration of diaphanous embroidered textile onto which a short series of images was projected. The piece was pleasingly hung in its own side room, and had the benefit of having an iron spiral staircase behind it, which serendipitously added texture to the whole. I watched the image sequence several times and enjoyed it more on each viewing.

Painting that on first encounter is precise and perfect in its dreamy realism is the stock in trade of Sizou Chen. But look closer and you’ll see the disturbing nature of the imagery of her young, if not pre-pubescent, girls; their bodies arranged in un-natural poses and some with their limbs at impossible angles. They are disruptive and deliberately challenge the viewer – why are you looking/don’t look/ see, but look away, and so on. I found myself distinctly uncomfortable, and that is the point, and more so when I watched her animations of the paintings. Unsettling with a gloss of the beautiful, and nicely done.

Another woman artist presenting sexualised images is Tijana Petrovic. Her large scale painting, a semi-naked back view self-portrait of a woman in her stockings and panties, is another deliberate provocation to which I have a conflicted feminist response. I find it troubling that a contemporary artist would paint an image that conforms tradition and in that sense plays to the expectations of the male gaze. I did not see how, if at all, this was a reclaiming of this ground; there was no defiance, no head turned staring at the viewer. Indeed the face of this woman was absent, replaced by a head full of strawberries. Surreal? Yes sure, and beautifully executed, but I guess I wanted more from it.

The part-printed canvases of Eduardo Rebelo are fine abstractions in that they are all about colour. For me they conjure the bright palette of Southern Europe and I loved their vivacity, complementarity and bold mark making. Equally vivid is the work of Teo Burki whose piece here is a riotous collage of paper and paint presenting a multiplicity of pleasing images that require work on the part of the viewer. Initially the whole is an attractive abstract, but as one moves closer and around the canvas, one is rewarded with a number of vignettes and some very balanced painting. It’s part Twombly meets Rothko meets Matisse, but is in fact none of these.

Clara Fantoni
Total abstraction comes in the unlikely form of a large plastic sheet made quite by chance as the result of it being a groundsheet for other paintings. It is the work of Clara Fantoni who has produced/found an interesting piece with both strong and subtle marks in a secondary colour palette. She has a challenge on her hands though as to how to preserve work in this ultimately flimsy material without destroying it.

K Blick is busy exploring traditional Portuguese ceramic tile making. Here she has decorated an alcove’s worth of tiles with playful images of dinosaurs and other animals in what is a patchwork of Greek myth meets Jurassic park with a crawling baby thrown in. I rather enjoyed its mysterious wit.

Sculpture came in the form of Siân Fan’s pond of perspex waterlilies, which take the representational into the digital age, as they are in part decorated with geometric shapes for their greens. I found the superimposed disruption of other leaf patterns and other flowers, and their botanical impossibility strangely pleasing. Emma Moore’s stone cutting is pleasing for its utter simplicity of line, which exposes the beauty of the natural materials she uses. Mounting the sculpture high on steel supports is an excellent choice to bring the sun to eye level. I also enjoyed the deliberately partially-made marble piece tucked against the gallery wall. Work in progress has its own merits.

Politics was represented on a large scale by Simon Hodgkinson’s bold monochrome monotype/painting, which dramatically counterpoints the catastrophic climate present with a possible greener future. I enjoyed character spotting: Attenborough as god on his central cloud, Morrison and Trump as caged dinosaurs, Greta Thunberg as superwoman, along with a cast of endangered animals, slag heaps, pit winding gear, solar panels and windmills. It is always a challenge to show polemic lightly and with subtlety, and this work succeeds in this regard as it demands close viewing to absorb the entire conceit.

One tip I would suggest it to catalogue the show in advance. It was a pity that there wasn’t time for this, as whilst the artists’ CV’s were provided in a helpful brochure, there was no clue as to the title of any of the pieces, or indeed their prices if they had been for sale. People are pretty shy about asking the cost or work, and so it might save embarrassment all round, if a price list can be produced.

As to titles, I think artists in general are missing a trick. Untitled might be a deliberate obfuscation, but I suggest it should only be a rare one. Over-used it loses its power. More likely it might be, and probably is in most cases, just a bit lazy. Titles are hard to write – tell me about it - , but done well they can add to and not detract from the art work, provide subtle or not so subtle clues to intention and meaning, and they do not necessarily close down multiple readings. I would like to have known what all of these works were called.

Sam Shepheard-Walwyn
And now for my star of the show. The outstanding painting for me is that of Samsom Shepheard-Walwyn. Only very partly influenced by Kiefer, and only in one landscape, his two other paintings were my absolute favourite pieces for different reasons. His mythical bird was a brilliant use of paint. The boldness with which he allowed white paint to run in order to suggest the birds’ feathers was genius. And the vicious dog chasing another white bird was excellently animated, teeth and all. I’d happily have taken either of these home. Bravo.

Congratulations though to everyone  - high quality work, very well displayed. It’s just a real pity that not one of the tutors turned out to support their students’ work and efforts in mounting a professional show. They could have easily awarded the degrees on the basis of this exhibition alone. From me at least: Distinctions all round.

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