BLOG Ellen Bell

NWR Issue 110

Oriel Davies Open 2016: Painting

Oriel Davies Open 2016: Painting
Anything sort of strikes you? a man in a beige canvas jacket asks a woman in turquoise patent leather shoes. No, says the woman, not yet.

Thirty-two artists have been selected for the Oriel Davies Open 2016: Painting, some with two, three; even four pieces on show. There’s a lot to take in.

Open exhibitions are a challenge for any audience, lacking as they usually are in theme, context or obvious coherence. Their success as a visual, and in some cases, sensory experience relies wholly upon judicious selection and curation.

Moving from Gallery One into Gallery Two, the artist Paul Delaroche’s now infamous, ‘from today, painting is dead’ (his response to seeing the first daguerreotypes in 1839) hums around inside my head. Is painting dead? echoed the art critics when first were put on display Marcel Duchamps’ upended urinal, and then later, Joseph Beuys’ vitrines containing felt and fat. And yet artists continued to paint. Art fairs, the modern measure of what sells, are chock-full of paintings. And they continue to command big prices. As consumers we know what to do with paintings. They hang on the wall, generally square or oblong, landscape or portrait; they reflect our world in two-dimensions, they are safe.

A group of people are clustering around Natasha Kidd’s painting
‘Overfill II’, 2015
(pictured). A pumping contraption that pours liquid into three, wall-hung, now bulging canvases, Kidd’s piece is far from safe. There’s a distinct dripping sound and white paint is pooling onto the floor. It’s lost the plot, says a middle-aged woman with a tight perm and a Birmingham accent; the liquid’s too thick ‘cos it’s paint. Is it supposed to go on the floor? another woman asks one of the gallery staff. It’s meant to represent the mechanical process of painting, she explains, smiling.

Process. Yes, that helps. Think about the act of painting. Pigment brushed onto linen, or scraped and smudged with the fingers, as in student prize-winner Clare Price’s ‘Guts for Garters’, 2015 a distinct nod to Cy Twombly, with its areas of bald canvas and splats and splashes of salmon pink and ultramarine blue. Or Cherry Pickles’ ‘Self Portrait as Dylan Thomas’, 2014 reminiscent of the Euston Road School with its dim, interior light and rapidly sketched marks of green and ochre. Or Clare Chapman’s ‘Held’, 2015, ‘Stump’, 2015 and ‘Bind’, 2015: gorgeous oozing amorphous shapes in deep pink against chocolate. (I’m reminded of squidgy wax ear plugs rolled between fingers, while on the noticeboard someone has written ‘I love pigs’.) Or Sally Payen’s subtle thin layering in ‘Time Lapse 2’ & ‘Time Lapse 3’, 2015, with their Louise Bourgeois like forms, or Judith Hay’s beautifully drawn ‘Black Tree’, 2015, with its scattering of hooded youths, one with a minute Adidas logo perfectly etched into red pigment. Joint prize-winner Louise Bristow, while paying the same attention to detail, is more photorealistic in style. In her ‘The Good Life’, 2015 there is even a tiny facsimile of photograph, exquisitely rendered. Her four pieces are like two-dimensional cabinets of curiosity, little stage sets of memories. A strange collection of exotica, made all the more intriguing by their obliqueness.

As in most group exhibitions the small must vie with the large. Some, it appears, fight for attention via their titles, like Corinne Charton with her Glenn Brown-esque rendition of an old-master-style portrait, eye-less and unfinished, called ‘My dumb-ass ex’s doing a daily ritual detox called ‘Purification Rundown’ which rids his body of “emotional toxins”’, 2014–15. By contrast, the sheer hugeness of Nicholas Johnson’s four-panelled’ graffiti-esque construction, ‘Gibbering Full Moon Fuckwit’, 2015 rather negates the need for the attention-grabbing f*** in its title. The sixty-four portraits in joint prize-winner Andreas Rüthi’s ‘The Commune of Painted Artists’, 2015 command an equal amount of space but with less face-slapping directness. Re-paintings of re-paintings and unashamed in their naivety, they’re easy to look at. And amusing to spot – yes, look there’s Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gaugin and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. And there are even a few women, isn’t that Angelika Kauffman? We’ve come full circle, it seems, with long-forgotten artists being re-envisaged by the young through paint.

This is good, says a woman in a furry hat, though I don’t understand it. Yes, says her husband, his answer more question than affirmation.

Ellen Bell is an artist and writer living in Aberystwyth.

This exhibition runs until 15 June at Oriel Davies gallery, Newtown

Image (top right) by Andreas Ruthi is ‘The Commune of Painted Artists’ (detail) 2015


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