Frieze week goes on but it is possible to, as it is every week of the year, it is possible to rather than queue for ages and pay a fortune to get in, simply head out and take in four or five art shows free of charge and without the crowds or the elbows or the people with their phones. Early Saturday afternoon and there’s not a single person other than me and the people looking after things at any of the galleries. True, you have to know where there are, they don’t make it easy for you, locked doors, no signs, often very little clue that they are there or indeed open. Herald Street Gallery, on Herald Street, Bethnal Green (the clue is in the name) are one of the worse, not a hint of a sign or a clue that they’re there unless you already know. Small grey unmarked door that takes you in to a garage and then another door at the back of that strange garage, it is almost as if they don’t want anyone to go there, almost as if people are an inconvenience. It is worth the effort though, Herald Street Gallery is always interesting, not every show is brilliant but they so often are rewarding.
Right now Herald Street Gallery has a solo show called Green Door by Naotaka Hiro, the first European solo exhibition of the Japan-born, California-based artist. “The show comprises two large-scale canvases, a selection of plywood paintings, and a bronze sculpture, accompanied by a film demonstrating the artist’s intimate and visceral practice”. I didn’t see the film or indeed any hint that there was one, it didn’t feel that visceral at the time but now that that seed has been planted. There is an energy in those marks. It all feels calm to me though, the calm after the storm maybe?
Hiro’s work is concerned above all with the unknowability of the body and its physical and psychological depths. He marries such influences as the vanguard experiments in movement and matter of the historic Gutai group from his native Osaka with the West Coast performance scene he discovered upon moving to California in 1991. Stemming from his background in filmmaking, Hiro’s process involves a constant back-and-forth between instinctive gestures and careful mark-making, which he likens to the dichotomies of actor/director, subconscious/conscious, filming/editing, or dream/awake, among others. Struggling with the notion that much of one’s body can only be perceived through a mediated form such as a camera or mirror, Hiro places himself as both the artist and subject, working intensely between the two states until their boundaries blur and he reaches ‘a complete void’.
These are fine paintings, there’s a delight in the construction, the composition, the edges where the colours meet, the textures, the relationships, the holes, the whole. Seems I really do need to see that film now, but then again do I? Is it about the process or the result presented here on the gallery wall?
Hiro’s paintings are recordings of a lengthy and physically demanding method consisting of several so-called ‘sessions’. To create the larger works, he suspends unprimed canvases from his studio’s ceiling and walls, threading his legs into a pair of holes to envelope himself, cocoon-like. In this claustrophobic arrangement, he manipulates the shape of the canvas with his body while spraying dye and drawing with oil sticks, in two-hour periods set by a timer. In contrast with the malleability of the canvas fabric, Hiro began a series of work on thick plywood, encased in a frame with removable legs that raise the tableau a foot from the floor. Lying with half his body underneath the surface, Hiro attacks the board with graphite, grease pencils, and carving knives to demarcate the positions and limits of his limbs. The incised areas in particular denotate the artist’s ‘vital’ points of strength, while each colour and pattern functions as a code to document different body parts and strains of movement. After each session of constricted bodily action comes a crucial phase of editing, during which Hiro re-examines the work from above the canvas or wood to add details with a sober hand, such as the armour-like pattern of scales visible in several paintings.
I must admit I knew nothing on the painting process before hand, I knew nothing about who was showing, I just dropped in (on the way to Gallery 46) and saw some exciting paintings, some slightly strange paintings, how else can those holes be described other than strange? These are exciting Paintings that demand you question, paintings that demand you invest some time in them, in the mediums and and yes, without knowing before hand, the processes, the intuitive movement, the mystery. I liked them, I liked it, need to find the film and then go back again…
Uncanny Island is the debut London art exhibition from Luke Haines. “Featuring a Fall Xmas Tree and psychedelic visions in acrylic and oils on canvas – of British wrestlers from the 1970s and early 80’s”. I know Haines for his music – Black Box Recorder excited more than The Auteurs – curiosity has brought me out early on a Saturday afternoon, that and the previous mentioned Gallery 46 reputation for good art shows that has built up over the last couple of years. I know nothing of Luke Haines as a painter.
There’s his World of Sport, his Saturday tea times, Mick Mcmanus, Big Daddy, is that Rollerball Rocco? Rollerball always seemed cooler than the others, the others all looked like overweight old men to me. There’s Kendo Nagasaki of course. Not sure how psychedelic these pieces are, they certainly have a style of their own, almost Stuckist? Stuck stuck stuck? Catweazel? He was always strange, is that The Bomber? What the hell is Emlyn bloody Hughes doing there? I guess they could be psychedelic visions? Big Daddy in the Nightgarden with Mark E Smith? Mark E Smith appears quite a few times and there’s Dickie Davies and there’s Brian Glover, uncanny indeed. Not sure what the Christmas Tree is all about in the second week of October? Or for that matter the tape over the door? Not sure what any of it is about actually? So we need to know? Some kind of 70’s childhood nightmare we all collectively lived while waiting for the results? England Made Me? Child Psychology? Certainly interesting, touch of Steve Keene maybe? I think I like them, I think I maybe do? Setting the Dogs on Shirley Crabtree? The revenge of Lenny Valentino?
Luke Haines has been a singer/songwriter for three decades first with The Auteurs, whose debut album ‘New Wave’ was nominated for the 1993 Mercury prize. His next group Black Box Recorder scored a hit and a Top Of The Pops appearance with ‘The Facts Of Life’ (2000) Luke’s memoir ‘Bad Vibes – Britpop And My Part In Its Downfall’ was a bestselling book in 2009. From the early 2000s Haines has released 14 solo albums, plus collaborations with the acclaimed Irish songwriter Cathal Coughlan in 2011 (‘The North Sea Scrolls’) and REM’s Peter Buck on the acclaimed 2020 album ‘Beat Poetry For The Survivalist’ This is his first art exhibition.
Naotaka Hiro Green Door at Herald St Gallery, 2 Herald St, London, E2 6JT. The show runs until 20th November 2021
Luck Haines Uncanny Island ends at 6pm on October 19th. Gallery 46 is found at 46 Ashfield Street, London E1.
As always, click on an image to enlarge or to run the fractureds slide show