Almost a relief to see a new art space opening in East London, especially one as promising as this basement space just by Broadway and a stones-throw from the now pretty much obliterated Vyner Street. English Magic in the first show in Fred Mann’s New Art Project space just over the road from the Regent’s canal, Sheep Lane, Hackney, deepest E8, back streets of London.
“Fred Mann is delighted to announce the first exhibitions at his new gallery, New Art Projects. English Magic will be made up of four solo shows by painters James E Crowther, Fergus Hare, Sarah Sparkes and Geraldine Swayne” .
Yes, it could be viewed as four solo shows in four rooms but the whole beautifully hung thing works so well as one whole, it works in terms of feel, of colour, mood, a beautifully put together show in the very bright and freshly painted basement. “The exhibitions will explore the fine line between the real and the sublime in contemporary British Painting, looking in particular at what happens when the English landscape is distilled through the eyes of artists. A magical realm is created”.
James E Crowther takes the attention first, his regiment of figures greeting you as you enter. James has carved a very powerful series of small wooden figures, each hand painted and apparently with “their own individual story”. There’s very little written information to go with the show, I guess the stories are left to our imagination, they certainly trigger possibilities, who are they? The intriguing figures demand instant attention as you walk down the stairs, standing there, terracotta army regimentation, far too many to count, each on an individual plinth, each of them very real, very familiar, standing there in almost formal lines “These figures are his Pinocchios, life is breathed into them and as they multiplied in his studio they began to create a visual noise”. Described as “a sideshow that grew into a celebration. It is a celebration not just of our shabby imperfection, our humanity but also of our shadow-side and weaknesses”. Hard not to feel a delight when you first encounter the figures, and yes there is a burlesque undercurrent throughout, slightly faded thirties seaside postcards, who are they? Brilliant, the tales they can’t help but tell, they look so intriguing there in their imperfect lines, almost powerful (almost) they certainly do celebrate our imperfections in an almost perfect way, to say they are a delight isn’t quite right but they are, an imperfectly delightful body of work.
Fergus Hare‘s oil paintings (of the Sussex landscape) are glorious, English magic indeed, “Rather than paint from the landscape on his doorstep, these works stem from the imagination. With a firm nod to the fantastical valley of vision of Samuel Palmer and the mysticism of William Blake” – and without any information save for the paintings themselves yes they do instantly bring Sussex and Palmer to mind, “Hare re-imagines the landscape as a dream-scape, on the edge of twilight”, a perfect place that surely can’t be real? Oh but it is, and brought to life in a very white Hackney basement, magical indeed, beautiful. Alongside Hare’s paintings, there’s also a cluster of charcoal drawings of the moon and planets. A solar system of the imagination, although the relatively small landscape paintings really do take all the attention in his room, they really are something special, something magical, English painting celebrated, English light, atmosphere, twilight, that place between the Downs and the sea, everything about these paintings is right.
And on it goes, ‘Never Afraid’ is an impressive body of work that artist Sarah Sparkes has apparently been creating over the past decade, a body that does indeed invoke –
“an attempt to both invoke and exorcise the memories embedded within her childhood locations”. The title “Never Afraid” refers to the small village of Aldworth in the Berkshire Downs and a legend passed down to her by her mother’s family about the four magical Aldworth Giants: John Long, John Strong, John Never Afraid and John Ever Afraid. “The ‘Never Afraid’ works are an investigation of these stories, symbols and fragmentary facts that she has used to try to communicate with an idea of the past. She observes “Never Afraid is a challenge made on a threshold before crossing into a symbolic, supernormal space” Ten pieces of work, ‘Never Afraid’ is a magical incantation to both summon and defend against forces outside of our understanding.” Each of the ten works painted with acrylic and mixed media on wall paper from one of her childhood family homes”. The pieces do speak of English suburbia, country towns, grander times, an almost mythical time of Southern Railways guidebooks, of melancholic 1930’s Shell illustrations temping is to explore, of ‘proper’ road signs, of a time and place that surely didn’t really exist? And that challenge? The symbolism of it all? Well that seems delightfully personal yet richly inviting, the warmth of home, a safe place, never afraid, this is a fine fine show and these are ten fine pieces, invoking indeed……
Geraldine Swayne plays with a slightly different England, her intimate postcard size paintings that take in pornography, landscapes, portraits of friends and musical collaborators. “She describes a creative and complex world that bridges artistic and musical creativity. As a member of the celebrated band Faust, Her small enamel paintings are intimate, slightly voyeuristic, painted on small metal panels, enamel paint, framed in white . “Her fascination with life and the personal landscapes she encounters comes from the margins of society, her works describes the edge”, they’re subtle, they are intimate, portraits, a look through the cracks, always positive though, feels like she’s celebrating people…
This is a strong show, a delightful show, a brilliant show, one of the best of the summer, four rooms, four very fine artists, an exhibition that works as one (brilliantly hung), four strong English painters, four exciting painters, magical, a far from dismal land, sometimes art can just lift things…. (SW)
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