THE ALCHEMIST

APRIL 17, 2014

by E.S Jones

IMG_7924

He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Luke 19 v 40
Born in 1956 in Santiago de Chile, Palolo Valdés is one of the most remarkable artists living in South America today. Using Fred Jarvis’ house to set up his first workshop in 1975, he moved five years later to New York where he made more than 60 sculptures, paintings, drawings and silk-screen printings. In experimenting with different kinds of metals and stones he discovered a unique way to mix stones and clay with melted metal. Valdés was the first known sculptor in the world to make use of these multiple materials successfully.
Bovines and equines, the sculptures have a pure animalistic energy about them. As if they were formed in the kiln of the earth’s core, these are volcanic beasts whose stony exteriors can barely contain their fiery spirit. Like cave paintings given three dimensions, there is a prehistoric magic to their fractured forms, a pleasing irregularity to their bronze bones and perfect hooves.
The artist is an alchemist, transforming earth into treasures. The smaller pieces in particular feel like ancient findings, to be held with a sense of reverence. Around the humble beginnings of plain old river rocks, Valdés brings about an artful metamorphosis with molten metal exoskeletons. Wild-eyed stallions and bulls are drawn out with humour and compassion. Electrically charged, they paw the ground and snort angrily, finished off with elegant oil puddle patinations or rusty ochres.

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BETWEEN THE LINES

APRIL 17, 2014

 by E. S. Jones

 Large Tower Red/Blue

‘My father’s music gives me a wave of some wonderful energy that brings to the surface a poetic or artistic impulse… His was another art form but some details of his music- his laconism- are near to me….’ 
Oleg Prokofiev, The Independent 1989

Oleg Prokofiev’s desire to find a synthesis between painting and the plastic arts led him to a series of works following a single line through loops and tangles. As the son of the legendary composer Sergei Prokofiev, he had grown up in the midst of creativity. Borrowing the musical idea of free expression within a set pattern, Prokofiev chose his unusual colours and forms, exactly as his father had used ‘wrong notes’ in his compositions- unexpected shifts that would resonate long afterwards. The leaping arpeggios of these sculptural works are a continuation of themes already touched on by his post-impressionist paintings: Form versus formlessness; the dynamics of creation and becoming; the oscillation between order and the need to destroy it. Tempo and mood is controlled through rigid lines as though the artist conducts an orchestra; the meandering colours stretching and bending, keeping strict time in shapes.

A trip to New York was the catalyst for Prokofiev’s transition from painting to sculpture. After the gentle European landscapes he had become accustomed to, the artist was stunned by aggressive vertical lines of looming towers, sharp skyscrapers and the hustle of a busy city. On returning to Europe he immediately began to improvise the Manhattan skyline. His subsequent ‘stripe’ series could be made of ironed out twists of coloured glass from the insides of marbles in shades of deep red, pale blue, olive green and shell pinks. Bright corals and ultramarines flicker behind watercolour glazes, sorting out the new intensities in his mind, preparing the way for surprising three-dimensional works.

One day, back in his London studio, Prokofiev stuck a strip of wood to canvas, instead of simply painting another stripe. His next work happened to be a painted relief, and after that he dispensed with the flat surface entirely. He began fashioning tower blocks and stacked buildings from ready-made planks and sticks, creating organic constructivist sculptures. With his studio right by the Thames, he would scavenge the city beach for driftwood and other washed up objects to use. The boundaries between painting and sculpture were in constant flux as he cut and assembled the wood, shaping the structures further with paint. He resisted calling these ‘sculptures’, using the term only according to strict definition, at a loss for a more satisfactory label. Using found objects such as small squashed tins, broken chair legs or pieces of machinery, he developed a magpie obsession over the accidental treasures found on the street.

Notebooks full of labyrinthine doodles show Prokofiev’s endless journeys across the paper, attempting to pin down his ideas. Spiking, curly, twisted lines end up in claws and eyes; there are glimpses of piano keys and harp strings in the centre of the hectic swarms. He considered his drawings to be only hints, the first step towards discovering the line ‘in flesh’. Detailed studies fifteen years previously into Ancient Indian art had also affected Prokofiev with its concept of the plastic arts as the continuation of nature. He referred to these creations as ‘coloured line in space’ hanging them across walls like abstracts come alive to the touch.

Later on, as more and more sculptures were created, his studio began to resemble an installation. He arranged the work in heaps and stiff lines like soldiers, hanging some from the ceiling, creating giant towers from the floor. During this time he produced some 200 works, a whole cave of stalactites and stalagmites that attempted to develop ideas and solve problems. The finished pieces appear like solid music, energetic and original, like weird insects wonkily perched on twigs. The eye wanders along painted paths and is met with a little green cog for an earring, or finely written gold poetry. Wearing bright plumes of reds and blues, the works sit around like oddly angled birds of paradise. Each piece marks significant stages of Prokofiev’s life, lucid and immediate, a testimony to the artist’s irrepressible spirit- rooted in the belief that the only reality is now.

 

‘From East to West: The Paintings Poetry and Sculpture 
of Oleg Prokofiev’ by E.S.Jones is available at
http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/5097357-from-east-to-west 
published in association with the exhibition 
‘From East to West: Oleg Prokofiev’ 
Exhibition runs until the 26th April 2014 at 
Hay Hill Gallery, 35 Baker Street, London W1U 8EN. 
http://www.hayhillgallery.com  020 7486 6006  info@hayhillgallery.com

DOUBLE DEUTSCH

APRIL 17, 2014

by E.S. Jones

You again (1024x812)

“ You’ll sit forever, gluing things together,/Cooking up a stew from other’s scraps,
Blowing on a miserable fire,/Made from your heap of dying ash.
Let apes and children praise your art,/If their admiration’s to your taste,
But you’ll never speak from heart to heart,/Unless it rises up from your heart’s space.” Faust

Peter Henryk Blum is one of the most exciting German figurative artists of his generation. Using the Old Masters techniques of layer and glaze painting, his scenes are muted, selective with colour, like silent film reels and tinted sepia prints. Players are staged in ironically self-conscious poses where the melancholia of sad harlequins and heavily made up women is reminiscent of physical theatre. Light hearted or darkly surreal, the works are unsettling, stirring up feelings of being at odds with things- even as everything else is odd.

Gentle diffusions of light are met by the devilishly sharp details of Blum’s technical brilliance. The unreality of the real world with its desires, alienation, loneliness and illusion is presented in Blum’s deeply lyrical style. Communicating emotion without words steers us away from the rational subjective self into the strength of the collective. The characters are heartbreakingly earnest in their wordless attempts to communicate with us in pantomimic performances. These mimes verge on Theatre of the Absurd, much like the Orator’s indecipherable speaker in Ionesco’s play The Chairs.

A clownish figure recurs in Blum’s latest works, chalk faced with penciled in eyebrows and shaven head. Masked by a rubbery red nose on elastic and black-rimmed eyes, he is playing a part. His gestural quality is reminiscent of Brechtian theories, the hunch of his posture and reach of his hands expressive as any spoken word. He could be playing Baal who ‘started out as a cabaret performer and poet. Then a merry-go-round owner, woodcutter, millionairess’ lover, jailbird and pimp’. In You Again Blum shows us behind the foolish disguise, as the actor studies his own furrowed brow with great concentration. The lights fuzz and blur around him, merging their halos as though the glass bulbs melt into each other. The man is confronted by himself under the greasepaint- the face he was born with turns up again like a bad penny.

As meditations on what it is to be human, Blum’s work might be the embodiment of Goethe’s school of thought- that Truth is found by experiencing the ‘Sturm und Drang’ (Storm and Stress) of life. Taking up this Faustian view against reason, the artist paints his subjects with compassion, not flattery. As though they have created each other, the trust between Blum and the models is based on empathy; they are speaking the same language. He uncovers their humanity by placing them in peculiar poses, allowing their emotional states to be read by our own feelings. The mask of words is eliminated by the visual and so re-connection between souls is achieved.

With this in mind it feels all the more painful that Blum should have had to wilfully destroy one of these relationships. In 2004 the work Praline was torched in front of the Press and Public after the model threatened to sue Blum for publishing a painting of her. Horrified at being asked to censor himself and explain away his work, the artist said he would rather they set fire to it- and surprisingly found himself taken up on the suggestion.

Reminiscent of Faust and the devil conversing over a ‘miserable fire’ about the state of the world, Blum brought the picture to the pyre, where the woman and her lawyer set it alight. Smoke curled up through the layers, blackening until the canvas burst and was eventually consumed. After the public and the press left, Blum started to collect the cinders of his picture which he now keeps in an urn. The ashes often feature at his exhibitions, a reminder of how the loss of ‘heart to heart’ can only result in tragedy.

The meta-theatricality of Blum’s work confronts us with the contradictions of humanity. Wearing dark glasses, we long to hide away but to also be adored, to ‘know fully, even as we are fully known’. To reach wholeness, we must look through the masks and costumes, remaining open-hearted with each other. Blum’s staging of each character remains strange because it is clear they are not alone in their secret rituals. Struck dumb, there is someone watching in the wings- and that person turns out to be you.

SHADES OF PALE

APRIL 17, 2014

by E. S. Jones

EMPTY STREET, RUSSIAN VILLAGE

‘It all begins with an unclear but somehow obsessive visual idea.’
Intention and Realisation, Oleg Prokofiev
Artist Oleg Prokofiev was born in Paris in 1928, moving to the Soviet Union at the age of seven with his parents and brother. The second son of Spanish singer Lina Liubera and composer Sergei Prokofiev, he grew up in the strange world of Stalinist Russia. In this hostile environment he witnessed his father’s fame and later demise- and his mother sentenced for eight years to a labour camp.

Studying at the Moscow School of Art at the age of fourteen, Prokofiev disliked the Soviet ideal upheld by his teachers of 19th century realistic Russian painting. He had started his studies as a student of sculpture but longed to be a ‘pure’ painter like the impressionists. When Prokofiev was seventeen he met the post-impressionist painter Robert Falk, out of favour with the authorities, who took him under his wing into a world of underground art. Falk was a founder member of the Knave of Diamonds group and his passion for Cezanne appealed to the young Prokofiev who stayed under Falk’s tuition for three years. He learned the serious discipline of building up a painting according to colour theory and the detailed observation of nature. Both artists shared the belief that art should be a reflection of the world as it appears, and a taste for modernism.

‘I began to move into a world of imagination… It reflected pretty perfectly well my very private life, full of repressed feelings and dreams mixed with fantasies about some magic deliverance from it.’ 
The Evolution of My Work, Oleg Prokofiev

This particularly volatile time in Russia formed a backdrop for meeting Camilla Gray, a young English dancer and art historian who had come to Moscow in 1961 to work on her book. The Russian Experiment in Art was a revolutionary study into the history of the Russian avant-garde, putting it in the context of pre and post war society. Camilla brought elements of the sciences, philosophies and modern culture together with the stories behind the brilliant personalities who instigated them. Camilla’s triumph on publishing her masterpiece in New York was short-lived: Due to the political mood of the time the authorities made sure she would be refused entry back into Russia, whilst Prokofiev was forced to remain.

For six years Camilla was not allowed into Russia, and Prokofiev was not allowed out. This period of uncertainty led to the artist producing an unusual collection of works, depicting his Russia fading into whiteness as he peered into the unknown. The distancing is deeply felt in titles such as Dissolving, Moving and Covered. His paintings take on the melancholic hues of limpid lilacs and foggy ochres, his paths lead in and through, disappearing over the horizon.…
This extract is taken from an exclusive new biography that will be published in association with the exhibition:http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/5097357-from-east-to-west
You can follow the rest of the story at Hay Hill Gallery’s retrospective of Prokofiev’s paintings and sculpture. Featuring over sixty works, the show brings together two major stages of his life; before and after he left Russia. This exciting exhibition leads us from the 1960s USSR period into the popular ‘white-on-white’ canvases of the 1970s, his revolutionary sculptures and last paintings. 
Oleg Prokofiev: ‘From East to West’
31st March- 26th April 2014
Hay Hill Gallery, 35 Baker Street, London W1U 8EN
Tel: 020 7486 6006 http://www.hayhillgallery.cominfo@hayhillgallery.com 
Opening hours: Monday – Friday 10.30-6, Saturday 11-5

SKIN DEEP

JUNE 28, 2014

Cuadro. El Descendimiento

Words by E. S. Jones

‘As a painter I feel a special predilection for the human figure, because this is where the mystery of many things can be found’ – Angel Muriel

The Dali-esque work of Angel Muriel revolves around the duality of love/ death, elegantly revealing the futility of our existence with the artist’s wry sense of humour. Charged with simultaneous attraction and repulsion, these paintings swell out burlesques of constantly mutating figures. Buried in the rubble of tongues and teeth, fleshy mounds take on all the colours of a frog in a blender.
This is body tissue eroticism, a bold desecration of the spiritual nature. Caught up in dark scandals, there are glimpses of sideways glances, bulbous eyeballs and round-toothed grimaces. The works emphasise the fleeting nature of life with its impossibly shifting boundaries. Syrupy faces emerge from the smooth veneers, and are finally swallowed up by amorphous forms. Bubblegum blown heads bloom and float around like balloons wearing mutilated wattles and double chins. These oracles spout incomprehensible psychobabble, their marshmallow soft skin-tag spill over in fatty folds. Piles of voluptuous bodies are deformed with swollen ankles and withered arms, the spawn of a Modigliani and Bottero romance.
Uncomfortable to look at, but nonetheless mesmerising, Muriel’s unusual works are pure theatre. His hallucinogenic visions arise from assigning the psyche a physical form. The artist is a philosopher, questioning the meaning we attach to things through religion or superstition, arguing that everything eventually boils down to erotic ecstasy. These hairless human slow-worms ooze from every pore of the canvas, suffering their extreme Elephantitus. They writhe in an agony that Muriel believes only death will relieve, that simply hitting these strange ganglions with a Bible will not suddenly make them disappear.

TALKS TO THE ANIMALS

AUGUST 1, 2014

556 Sleeping Space #2

‘Whatever happens to the beast also happens to the man. All things are connected’ Chief Seattle, Suwamish Tribe

Robert Bissell’s paintings could have been lifted from the pages of a children’s well-loved story book, but closer inspection reveals a far deeper meaning. Like animals from Aesop’s fables or Watership Down, the timeless philosophy of each subject leads us into powerful childhood memories- and the innocence of who we really are. His creatures challenge our forgotten sense of play with disarmingly Narnian wisdom; we find that the fairytale symbolism still resonates with an adult spirit.

Bissell is the master of altering perspectives: one minute we are peering down on a softly whimsical scene of bears and butterflies; the next we are dwarfed by a giant rodent (with every single one of his ratty hairs glistening in high definition). Some characters are too big for their worlds; others nearly lost in the sprawling landscape. Bissell’s animals in some way hold up a mirror to our own triumphs and failings- unmasking our callings, journeys and secret desires. Although the artist’s technique is remarkably realistic, his creatures appear surreal- as though clones of each other. There is not a group of wolves, only one universal wolf repeated across the canvas. In this way, the works have the golden enchantment of a dream, provoking an out-of-body experience for the viewer.

In ancient mythology, animals carried their own symbolism, existing as omens for interpretation. A fox slinking in the shadows is a glimpse into the supernatural; a horse galloping across the field is a promise of strength and freedom. In the attempt to make sense of human existence, we are looking for moral authority- and find it in living breathing furry metaphors. Unable to fully detach, we will see certain human traits in animals long before we recognise them in ourselves. At one with their environments- and at peace with themselves- the animals reveal things hidden from human eyes. They continue to teach us about the possibility of less cluttered lives, allowing earth to connect with an uninhibited spirit.

Words by E.S. Jones

HUNGER GAMES

AUGUST 27, 2014

Beauty Queen

Words by E.S. Jones

Roxana Halls’ paintings are often characterised by an insatiable curiosity for key cultural trends, and her latest exhibition Appetite is no exception. Questioning the repertoire of legitimate actions available to women today, her subjects highlight the resultant self censure and fear of inappropriateness. In a contemporary culture that influences and polices women’s behaviour, their response to messages of Eat/Don’t Eat are like simmering saucepans, or boiling kettles about to blow their covers. Caught in the act of mastication, they forget all social etiquette, advancing aggressively upon the edible.

Featuring such uncharacteristic, devil-may-care attitudes to appetite, the works are wry observation of the push and pull of modern society’s expectations: the subjects swing from quiet introspection to wild exhibitionism and back again. Leaving behind their unmanageable emotional excesses, they are freed from overwhelming fears, open mouthed in anticipation of a feast: a beauty queen takes the first bite from her prize bouquet; a golden haired girl floats away from a telephone conversation; arms snake out from under a tablecloth like an octopus or Indian god. Peering in with curiosity, we find that we are not the audience after all but that popcorn-stuffing theatre-goers watch us through their 3D glasses.

Inspired by J. M. Charcot’s defined phases of a hysteric episode, the arresting centrepiece Twelve Hysterical Women is a tongue-in-cheek take on the The Iconographie Photographique de la Salpêtrière- from the dramatic lighting and oval framing, to models chosen for the aesthetic rather than the symptomatic. Although witch hunts are in the past and ‘hysteria’ is no longer an acceptable diagnosis, the idea of female repression and its consequences is still relevant. ‘Hysteria’ has simply fragmented into a variety of modern ailments- from eating disorders to post-natal depression. The strange female body, with its dangerous sexuality and emotional tendencies is still seen as a thing to be kept under strict control- and naturally becomes rebellious.

Halls considers herself as an artist working within the feminist tradition, yet she does not force-feed us the moral of the story. Unlike Charcot’s medical specimens, the women are presented without judgement; staring out defiantly to challenge us about our own self-imposed boundaries. These women have recovered from a paralysing state of longing, caution is thrown to the wind and true natures are unleashed. You can try to suppress them, or keep them safely within their frames- but you should expect eruptions of indecorous behaviour verging on the absurd. This exhibition must be for those who have an insatiable appetite for the truth – and they will leave feeling hungrier for it than before.

Roxana Halls: Appetite
Hay Hill Gallery, 35 Baker Street, London W1U 8EN
26th August- 27th September 2014