Gemma Billington ‘An Dúchas (Homeland)’

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by Niall Macmonagle, Art Critic

Ireland once home to eight million people, even today is a place of ghosts. Traces of those lives lost to famine and emigration can be seen still, especially in the West of Ireland. A stone wall, a gable end, lazy beds, potato drills, a wild rose bush, a flowering currant tree remind us that a family once lived here, that this now ruin was a place someone once called home.

In her poem ‘The Island. A Prospect’, Paula Meehan charts this country’s dark history as ‘bitter tales of landlords, emigration of plantation, rebellion, famine and ruin’ and Gemma Billington’s powerful new work, An Duchas, explores aspects of that complex, lonely past in images that evoke the concept of home within and against an Irish landscape.

An Duchas, meaning native place, also means a ‘a natural affinity, a kindred affection’ and here Billington conveys not only a deepening connection with her native place but a preoccupation with and love for the landscape she knows well. Her heart’s affections are felt in work of vibrant colours, in a strikingly new command of bold dramatic lines, in Billington’s assured structure and composition.

In those new paintings the house though an intrinsic part of the landscape does not dominate. We glimpse a roof, a gable wall against the abundant landscape. We imagine the lives lived, the world’s contained with those homes. In Sean Borodale’s memorable, atmospheric ‘Air House’ (a poem he subtitles ‘composite made during visits to an abandoned house in Mayo’) he writes of how

With no usable door
I had to climb in through a broken window
There were unopened letters, a bottle of holy water
the sacred heart disintegrating on its paper . . .

That yellow wooden chair is a ghost
and in the left drawer of the blue sideboard in the kitchen
that reel of crimson thread is a ghost.

Such imagined long-gone lives are also prompted by Billington’s new paintings. Her last exhibition captured the surging, storm-filled Atlantic. Here she has moved inland and brings back to life ghostly presences. Her focus is the domestic, as in domus, ‘home’, but it is the vibrant landscape too. Her palette contains dramatic reds, blues, greens; her perspective is such that the work draws one in. For the viewer it’s a deepening silent, nourishing experience.

Living in this landscape is celebrated and though time brings change and homes have fallen into ruin An Duchas invites us to remember the busyness of life, the dreams and hopes of people who once lived here.

In ‘The Only Story’ Julian Barnes asks is life beautiful but sad or sad but beautiful. It’s a question he borrowed from Frank O’Connor’s essay on Mozart. In this instance, in relation to Gemma Billington new show the answer is life is sad but beautiful. There’s no escaping sadness and, as these paintings testify, life contains its sorrows. Place for Billington contains the past, a past that has known inevitable disappointment and loss; the work convincingly acknowledges what is sad but ends on a beautiful note. For Gemma Billington, in the new body of work, the life is sad but beautiful.

She has found that sadness in the landscape she knows well, she knows those places where houses have been abandoned but she cherishes the lives once lived there and she celebrates the beauty of the natural landscapes, on-going vibrant abundant nature. But the enduring power of these paintings is in Billington’s outstanding skill in what are loving tributes to place, what place has meant and what place means to all the lives that ever lived and live there.

The personal online exhibition ‘An Duchas (Homeland)’ of paintings by Gemma Billington will be held on the gallery website from 16th September to 31st October 2019. Visit the exhibition at http://www.hayhill.com/docs/billington.html

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Don Quixote

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Nikolai Silis. «Don Quixote With A Flower», 200 х 150 х 150 cm, copper, 2018

By Valentin Ryabov, gallery owner, art critic.

In the late 60s, Nikolai Silis began working on a new series of graphics. As a result, we got 14 pages of brilliant works dedicated to the famous hero of the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote. The main creative goals for Silis were always works on the form, and Don Quixote felt just right for the plastic experiments. “I immediately imagined him all formed and twisted, made from thick sheets of metal” recalled the sculptor in his memoirs. (N. Silis, “Memoirs”, Academic Publishing Centre “Nauka”, Moscow, 2016, p.39.)

Gradually, the hero of the graphic series began to acquire real outlines, first in clay, then in gypsum and finally, in his already familiar copper form. Although later, on the creative path of the sculptor, this image received many incarnations. In particular, Silis has a smaller bronze version of Don Quixote. This version was created specifically for the Moscow International Film Festival, which was later awarded to director Yuri Norshtein when he received the Tarkovsky Award for the cartoon “The Hedgehog in the Fog” in 1989.

Don Quixote became the most distinguished character of the master.

The image of Don Quixote, embodied by Nikolai Silis, combines monumentality with intimacy.

He is largely out of the total number of his works, that usually gravitating toward generalization of forms, and yet, it is a veiled self-portrait of a master.

Particular attention of Silis to the plastic interpretations in sculpture made significant changes in the world of art and included him in the lines of greatest artists of the twentieth century: Auguste Roden, Antonio Giacometti, Henry Moore, Vadim Sidur, Tony Cregg. Don Quixote became the main work of the sculptor, in which he was able to express his moral and ethical ideals, as well as the genius of the artist-creator.

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“I have a great news. The large sculpture by Nikolai Silis ‘Don Quixote With A Flower’ arrived to my gallery in Moscow. It is the best sample! It is the last life-time large ‘Don Quixote’ sculpture. It is a fourth edition of the sculpture made from the concrete model and it is the last one since the concrete model has been destroyed and there is no team which has the right and the sculptor’s trust to reproduce the model. Previously only one edition of the sculpture was made with a battle shield as the sculptor conceived it. This fourth addition was also made with a battle shield.” – Valentin Ryabov, gallery owner.

Contact Hay Hill Gallery (info@hayhillgallery.com) if you are interested in this sculpture or other sculptures of this famous sculptor.

 

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

JUNE 23, 2014

Refresh and Renew email

By E. S. Jones

‘We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us’. Winston Churchill

Will Martyr’s stylish paintings highlight the fascinating influence of architecture on the mind. The images in his new exhibition Stay Until Tomorrow read like a catalogue of structures designed to bring about a sense of well-being. As the environments we occupy are processed and interpreted by all our senses, they inevitably contribute to identity and an overall satisfaction with daily life. Although we’ve become cynical we still secretly long for something gloriously unexpected, that the rabbit will be pulled from the hat, ears and whiskers intact.

In our modern culture, beauty has been replaced by functionality; darker and uglier concrete blocks overshadow our streets, contributing to vague feelings of claustrophobia. Contrary to the ubiquitous slogan, it does not feel like we are ‘worth it’, but just another cog trapped in a vast grey, windowless machine. These bigger and better and taller Towers of Babel are monuments to power- but leave us isolated and straitjacketed. Somewhere we’ve misplaced the importance of horizontal breathing space, under the suffocating desires for the vertical.

Martyr’s paintings such as ‘Well To Do’ and ‘It’s Only Us’ are a real release for your tired eyes. Here, from a relaxed and reclined view, the world finally looks ‘right’. Things are aligned, fitting together seamlessly; edges are smoothed out, all shapes are levelled and evenly spaced. The canvases feel familiar, with sheets of light softly slanting through glass, hushing your jangled nerves as though you were stood under the arching ceiling of a cathedral. Inside is like outside: the roof as endless as the sky, walls billowing out like sails in the wind, quietly drifting out upon the grassy sea. The sweeping lines are reminiscent of rolling hills and distant horizons, even though there are no trees left to speak of.

This artist’s technique is both architect and magician; every precise brushstroke is a sleight of hand to lull and seduce. We know that there is more here than meets the eye, but find comfort in the illusion. He does not attempt cerebral explanations of architectural psychology, but hints at our deep seated longings for freedom with his visions of the perfect tomorrow. These are truly bewitching blueprints, designed to restore connection between the inner and outer world.

ARIADNE’S THREAD

JUNE 23, 2014

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By E. S. Jones

‘The capacity to be puzzled is the premise of all creation, be it in art or science’ Eric Fromm

Maurizio Camatta’s works create exciting atmospheres, illuminating the natural curiosity of the spectator. Brilliant flashes of lightning and layers of charged elements blaze in the gathering gloom, creating his Electrical Storms. Within these canvas clouds, electrons knock knees with rising damp, kettled by the fierce outside forces. Geomagnetic clashes burn hotter than the sun, with auroras like haloes and ripping through the material of the sky. Beautifully lit on the gallery walls you find yourself wondering if the paintings would glow, even with the blinds drawn, and the lamps dimmed several octaves lower.

Unusually, Camatta finishes his abstracts with threads, as though they were musical instruments from a fantastical space orchestra. With more than a nod to string theory, they appear to be dissections of the ‘stuff’ we are made of. Like super magnified particles, the colours darkly vibrate their universal symphony, hinting at hidden things beyond our reach. In front of these works it is easy to marvel at our origins, to imagine a multi-verse of black holes, interstellar gasses and extra dimensions, to predict our eventual fate.

Camatta is the ultimate chromatographer, revealing another layer just the other side of what is perceived. As in a school science experiment, we see that blackness is not nothingness. Just as the felt pen separates into its colourful components on filter paper, so space is not actually empty but stuffed full of dark energy. It may seem like science fiction to start talking of ideas like cross-dimensional gateways, but our endless investigations have already identified previously unimagined pieces of the puzzle: up/ down/ strange/ charm/ bottom/ top quarks, neutrinos, muons, tuons and electrons. We are relentless in our pursuit of the elusive Higgs boson that will complete the jigsaw and give us The Theory Of Everything. This missing piece still nettles us today about life’s meaning. We question the existence of a ‘God particle’, blaming butterflies for triggering tornados.

So how long is a piece of string theory? Ancient texts described ‘this and yonder world and all beings (as) strung together’. They speculated about the ropes connecting earth to sun, and the mysterious solar winds. The Upanisadic philosopher Gargi first challenged the sage Yajnavalka about ‘the thread on which all worlds are interwoven’, many moons before we began to unravel string theory. Perhaps these ideas have always been there, laid out to help find our way through this Minotaur’s labyrinth.

HEADSPACE

JUNE 19, 2014

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By E. S. Jones

Winston Churchill once remarked that ‘we shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us’. Will Martyr’s paintings appear to highlight this fascinating influence of architecture on the mind. As the environments we occupy are processed and interpreted by our senses, they inevitably contribute to identity and an overall satisfaction with daily life. From ceiling height to wall colour, the kind of places we inhabit have been proven to directly influence our behaviour. For example, shades of red will promote attention to detail and energy; while cooler colours lead to creative thinking, as ideas literally meander off into the blue.

Martyr’s landscapes are like diagrams of structures designed to bring about a sense of well-being. In our modern culture, beauty has been replaced by functionality; darker and uglier concrete blocks overshadow our streets, and contribute to feelings of hopelessness. Contrary to the ubiquitous slogan, it does not feel like we are ‘worth it’, but just another cog in a vast grey, windowless machine. Somewhere we’ve misplaced the importance of horizontal space, under the myriad desires for the vertical. Once upon a time the skyline was considered as a whole, now every new building wants to be known by its weird shape and peculiar nickname: The Gherkin, The Cheese Grater, The Walkie Talkie. Humorous as it all is, who actually wants to work inside a giant pickled cucumber? Bigger and better and taller Towers of Babel, they are a result of a craving for more visible power- but lead to an isolated and scattered community.

From the cure-all-ills holiday in the Swiss Alps to retirement by the sea, location has always been vital to health and recovery. As recorded by Marco Polo, the King of Kerman wondered why his nation should be so tranquil, while right next door the Persians were renowned for their savage fighting and cruel tempers. The story goes that the King’s advisors suggested bringing some Persian soil to the palace, hiding it under the carpets and holding a banquet. Upon arrival, the usually docile guests immediately turned on each other, proving a direct correlation between the physical ground and its affect on society.

As the King witnessed first hand, we are shaped by every element of our surroundings. We need openness, comfort and breathing space; our brains are wired to be wary of spiky edges, and are naturally drawn towards gracefully curved forms. Martyr’s buildings feel familiar, with sheets of light softly slanting through glass, hushing our jangled nerves as though we were stood under the arching ceiling of a cathedral. In his paintings, the roof over your head can be as endless as the sky, walls billow out like sails in the wind, quietly drifted out across the grassy sea. Sweeping lines remind us of rolling hills and distant horizons, even though there are no trees to speak of.

One of the most ridiculous moments of the last century was the construction of the ‘Millennium Dome’, a grand monument to ourselves. An enormous amount of planning and money appeared to go in- yet it remained completely deserted after completion for seven years. It became an apt metaphor for our disposable culture, where our promised ‘future’ was only emptiness and uncertainty. Perhaps it is time to stop treating our structures as a commodity, and return to building real shelters designed to inspire and last. Permanence rather than transience is an investment in the self, not just a foot-hold on the property ladder.

In giving more weight to the design of living and working spaces, the architect is like a magician- and we are the willing audience. Although the element of mystery vanished under Francis Bacon’s emphasis on rationality, we still long for something unexpected, that the rabbit will be pulled from the hat, ears and whiskers intact. Will Martyr’s canvases stir the imagination with a technique that mimics an architect’s process; every precise brushstroke is a brick emerging in three dimensions to lull and seduce. We know that there is more here than meets the eye, but find comfort in the illusion.

These beautiful paintings give us just enough of an insight into the trickery without giving away the game. The artist is a purist, presenting us with clean lines, smooth planes, satisfying symmetry and dominant geometry. He does not attempt cerebral explanations of architectural psychology, but hints at our deep seated longings for ‘home’ with his visions of the perfect tomorrow. These are truly bewitching blueprints, designed to restore a connection between our inner and outer worlds.

Will Martyr: ‘Stay Until Tomorrow’ is at Hay Hill Gallery, 35 Baker Street, London W1U 8EN from the 23rd June until the 19th July 2014. Private view- 24th June from 6-8pm, RSVP sarah@hayhillgallery.com.

http://www.hayhillgallery.com

LUMINO_CITIES

MAY 29, 2014

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Words by E.S.Jones

‘Architecture is the most stylish way of culture representation, and… like many people, I like to make my own discoveries. In this variety of city landscapes and cultural traditions no creative person can remain indifferent. I often carry my camera with me, which becomes my interpreter and even my partner… London is one of the most beautiful cities in the world for me.’- Alexey Lyubimkin

The photographs of the architect Alexey Lyubimkin are love letters to the cities he encounters. He unfolds the lines of trees and buildings as though they were simply blueprints of the original city design. His lens is a magnifying glass that scrutinises the things our naked eye cannot see, as he presents the ever changing landscapes.

Borrowing from an old tinting technique, Lyubimkin uses a modern myriad of solero hues. Metallic rain falls in pins and needles over smoothly inked barcodes, finally slipping off the page. Printer margins drag their heels in orange and pink while clouds change like the Northern Lights or a heat sensitive T-shirt. The artist’s preoccupation with colour emphasises the importance of noticing beauty- even to our rat race during rush hour. If we were to look up from the pavement for just one moment, we might spot a streetlamp glancing off the gutter at a perfect angle, or see how branches transform the sky into a stained glass window.

The black and white compositions are poetic views of Italy, from the morning sun on vineyards and cypresses, to the long tall shadows of the afternoon where dark trees and bright clouds copy each other’s airy shapes. Heatwaves and summer storms give way to the far off scattered lights of an evening village. Whilst these works are graphically different to the cityscapes, the artist’s extraordinary sense of wonder is maintained even in the idyllic.

Whether we love or hate where we live, we subconsciously give ourselves context by our perceived relationship to environment. Working out how it all fits together, and then how to live within that space brings a sense of belonging. If we are not present to our surroundings at all then we will always feel at odds- and be homesick wherever we go. The artist gets us standing in place to marvel at those forms around us, and find out our personal geometry. Rolling out the bridges and streets under our feet like carpets, Lyubimkin invites us into the picture- and to finally feel like we’re home.

THE INDECENT EYE

MAY 20, 2014

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by E. S. Jones

Marco Sanges cordially invites his viewers to enter his extraordinary worlds. A fantastic storyteller, this artist creates cinematic sequences from his photographs. As we peer through the silvered lens, distortion suggests all is meaningless, that nothing has purpose. Within such surreal walls, logical arguments fall into nonsense, eloquent speech collapses into gobbledegook- and the inevitable outcome will be silence. As a result, Sanges’ players are trapped in cruelly endless mimes, menaced relentlessly by incomprehensible outside forces. Aghast, afraid, astonished, they gesture helplessly from the other side of their screens, enormously exaggerated.

Marco Sanges’ works are peopled by uncanny, larger than life characters. His untidy troupe of old money and sugar daddies wear powdered wigs and brylcremed toupees at jaunty angles. From lavish opium dens, gentlemen peer out suspiciously through tobacco-smoked monocles. They pose blindfolded and androgynous, morbidly fat or incredibly thin with ribs like spiral staircases. Tulle-skirted girls wilt in velvet chairs waiting for the end- resigned to the fact that it is probably already written. With regal noses and cupid’s bows, stooping drag queens wear fox furs attached by teeth to tail. Tall ladies politely face the wall, small ones run amok under madly darkened eyebrows.

Darkly enchanting, these photographs are touching in their depiction of human frailty and strength. Once the metaphysical rug is whipped out from under your feet, you are forced to come to a conclusion, make your own mistakes and see the funny side. Suddenly, you too are part of the picture, rooted to the spot, wildly gesturing and making peculiar faces. Afterwards you might scratch your head and wonder what just happened, but Sanges is a magician, an unhinged puppet master with a camera. As you step back out into the June afternoon, come rain or shine you may feel you’ve a touch of sunstroke- but it’s only your mind playing tricks on you again.