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 In our modern culture, beauty has been replaced by functionality; darker and uglier concrete blocks overshadow our streets, and contribute to feelings of hopelessness.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

sanges marco © theatre n' 1

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.

FRAGMENTS

APRIL 29, 2014

by E. S Jones

13-blind fury, 190x200 cm-2008- 15500 GBP- S-

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” C.S Lewis

As a child Pejman Ebadi was encouraged to freely pursue his creativity, and held his first exhibition at only six years old. By the time he turned eighteen, this young prodigy had produced some 1500 works documenting his unique insights. As a result, his paintings give the sense of opening his diaries; volumes and volumes from childhood through adolescence, and into young adulthood.

This maturing creativity is a fascinating process to watch unfold. From early nightmarish visions of sharp toothed monsters that hide under the bed, to exercise book doodles, rebellious graffiti or sophisticated word play. These graphic daydreams imagine underworlds, spells and curses- they are mind maps that expose fears and rejections, melancholy and self-doubt. The artist leaves these manifestations strewn behind him, wondering aloud at ideas of existence, ego and identity.

The name ‘Pejman’ means one who is broken hearted, and these paintings do reveal some painful personal fractures. However, in allowing things to fall apart, a deeper understanding can be reached. In exposing the darkest self to the light, we become more human. Such a vulnerability and thirst for truth sets Pejman apart as one of our most relevant artists today. Every thing this poet-painter-philosopher has achieved so far, is simply a fragment of the incredible things still to come.

Pejman Ebadi has only really just begun.

THE ALCHEMIST

APRIL 17, 2014

by E.S Jones

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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.

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.