Another Thursday night, let’s get out there, on with the exploring of art and art spaces and eyes and mouths and paint and little monsters and meeting people and basements alive with that hum of an opening night, alive with paint and life and people and chatter and cheap wine and cheaper larger and people with their phones…
“Exact resemblance to exact resemblance the exact resemblance as exact as a resemblance, exactly as resembling, exactly resembling, exactly in resemblance exactly a resemblance, exactly and resemblance. For this is so. Because.”
Between 2014 and 2017 Hedley Roberts produced a series of ‘non-portraits’ of lovers, friends, family, acquaintances and strangers. Hedley Roberts begins by working from photographic collages using source materials from social media sites or images sent to him by friends. Sometimes he begins with a photographic image of someone that he wishes to portray, more usually he begins with a collaged image or photograph of someone who looks similar to his subject. Occasionally he just begins…
And then we get to look at those same paintings he talked of via social media and all flat and in all honesty they have no real impact, well not a serious one, they ignite curiosity as they pass by in our news feeds – we get no real sense of them, no feel for the paint, the marks, the scale, we can’t see the life in the eyes, the life in the paint, the painter in the paint, the people he’s painting, not on-line. And Hedley Roberts is very much a painter and these really are excellent paintings, they really aren’t mere images to view via a flat digital screen on social media (or on websites like this). Other Portraits in a beautifully hung show, work framed and spaced in just the right way, everything with space to breath, details to be explored (a good show well hing always deserves a mention, these things don’t just happen). And you do need to explore the detail, you do need to look in to those eyes, enjoy those mouths, those beautiful brush marks and that paint – paint all treacle thick and good enough to eat, the personal almost private interaction with the people he’s painted.
The paintings start figuratively with recognisable features and representational composition, but as they progress, elements are obliterated, layered over, removed or simplified. Works can be realised in a single sitting, across weeks or even returned to over years. Throughout, Roberts ‘imagines’ his relationship with the person portrayed, creating an internalised dialogue between the person, how he sees the person and his relationship to the process of painting. In this activity, Roberts aims to embody the dialogue between the artist and subject, to ‘make flesh’ of the interior of both, and render that which is invisible – visible. The image of the subject is transformed and ‘becomes’ a ‘non-portrait’ of the person.
And they do feel so so intimate, almost like you shouldn’t be looking in to those eyes quite so much as you find you are, who are these people we’re being invited to look at in this very intimate way? I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy Hedley’s work as much as this (that’s social media for you) and for some reason I was expecting the paintings to be far smaller than some of them are (that’s Facebook feeds for you) and yes, obviously art needs to be viewed in the flesh, of course it does, it needs to be sensed, it needs to be there to almost be touched, there within reach, but these paintings more than most, those faces more than most, those eyes, mouths, faces taken off a computer screen and brought back to life..
The finished works become not only a portrait of the sitter but also function as “other” portraits of the time and landscape in which they were made. Roberts states: “The other is my internet friend, my acquaintance, colleague, family, stranger, lover. The other is the same as me but different. They are black, white, yellow, brown, atheist, agnostic, Christian, Muslim, Arab, Israeli, Palestinian, Syrian, Kurdish, American, European, immigrant, national, ex-pat, straight, hetronormative, genderqueer, neurotypical, different, alien.
There they were, eyes we’d seen on the internet, colour we’d seen on line, Hedley’s internet “friends”, all of them strangers to us the viewers, paintings and people alive on a gallery wall and another rather fine show at Fred Mann’s New Arts Project gallery. You can’t look at these paintings on Instagram (or indeed here on this page), you really need to go stand in front of them, look at them, interact with those eyes and those mouths and…
The Hedley Roberts show wasn’t the first show visited on a busy Thursday evening though, other East London spaces and places had already been explored, not really here to tell you about the art that didn’t excite though, not here for the galleries that frustrate, not tonight anyway.
“Really enjoyed the Red show” said someone outside New Arts Project, the mention was already the third of maybe fourth time it had been brought up by someone during evening, a little earlier a conversation about it in another gallery has resulted in a group of people standing in that big white gallery looking at the Red show on their phones, no! Do that at home, do that later, not in a gallery (at least do it on a decent sized monitor, put down those damn phones). Actually every time I’ve gone near a gallery in the last ten days people have been asking about or commenting on the Red show. Almost 9,000 views now, it slowed down after the rush of views on the first day, seems that openings on line work pretty much like openings in general. “I have co-run a small gallery in Tunbridge Wells for over a year – soon to close because the premises are being demolished! – and we never had that many visitors in a week” said one of the contributing artists in an e.mail yesterday (we had been keeping people involved updated on numbers and reactions and such). I don’t think many galleries anywhere get that many visitors in a month, interesting that so many want to talk about Red or view it on-line while standing in a gallery full of art, stop it!
There’s no time to hang around Sheep Lane outside the gallery taking about art and the merits of things on-line (while all around people check their phones and their feeds and post photos from the Hedley Roberts show). no time, on to the next one, a quick walk across London Fields and through the blood and disinfectant of Ridley Road to go catch the Himbad show at BSMT Space, oh look an opening at Doomed, we’ll double back and check that out after Himbad if there’s enough time (wasn’t it all so so much easier when it all happened in Vyner Street or Redchurch Street)
Expected the Hedley Robert’s paintings to all be around about the size of a sketchbook page for some reason (some were, some were much bigger, satisfyingly so), expected the Himbad show to be alive with big bold paintings and the gallery looking like those Camden walls and the energy of Himbad encountered on on the street. Besides the painted sign, this is all very polite and restrained, all neat and tidy, polite little painted demons on polite gallery walls – “I love them all” she said in a text as I made my way over there, “I want them all”, clearly others are excited by the show.
What we have here is a politely hung gallery show and some rather good-looking graphic-novel type clever comic book-like illustration type little paintings, gone is the Himbad street art energy and instead some beautifully painted smaller pieces of what is almost grown-up comic book art (beautiful use of colour, impressive style if this is your thing). Nothing wrong with comic book art and the beauty of a good graphic novel if that’s what you want, and yes there’s some impressive work in here if impressive comic book graphic novel style art is your thing, and I have to be honest, as impressively stylish as Himbad’s gallery work is, as gloriously coloured as it is and as well hung as it is, it doesn’t really do anything much for me. There’s some nice textures, dare I call them backgrounds, and the colour sense is delicious, no doubt others will love this side of Himbad and this gallery show, and big respect to it all (and the dots say people are buying the pieces, and they’re not cheap, Himbad is enjoying a successful opening, nice one), just, well…um…
Rather like that Greek street art show in the same gallery a couple of weeks back, things are all a little bit too polite and all illustration and comic book and looking beautifully slick and clean cut, and well yes, beautiful little monsters if that’s your thing, each to his or her own, if it sounds like yours then I rather recommend it, I kind of needed more of that street energy and and a little more than a polite set of little squares that, as beautifully as they’re painted, feel like panels from a plush glossy graphic comic book thing…
Off back to see what was happening at Doomed Gallery then, after a few more chats about Red down in the basement space – that damn Red show is getting far more response than any “proper” gallery show we ever put on ever did. Doomed was mostly photography, nothing that really excited that much, interesting moment or two. Another Thursday night in East London then, see you out there again next week, art needs to be seen in the flesh, not on a computer screen on a… enough already … (sw)
HEDLEY ROBERTS – OTHER PORTRAITS runs at New Art Projects until April 29th. New Art Projects is at 6d Sheep Lane, Hackney, London, E8 4QS. Just behind Broadway Market, not far from the canal.
The HIMBAD show is on at BSMT Space, 5d Stoke Newington Road, Dalston, London, N16 until March 16th
Click on an image to enlarge or run the fractured slide show that gives you a vague idea of what’s to be found out there…
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