ORGAN THING: Phillip Allen’s tasty paintings at The Approach, do we honestly really need all that art talk at Nicoletti?

Phillip Allen, Coarse Grain – (International Everywhere Version), 2022, Oil on polystyrene support, 180 x 150cm

There’s a new Phillip Allen show opening at The Approach Gallery tonight, his last one in the East London space back in February of 2019 was rather tasty, and yes, I did think about the choice of word there, his paintings really are tasty, his paintings really do demand you go see them, that you go experience them rather than just look at them.

Quick cut through the ghostly remains of Vyner Street and the one gallery that exists there now, there’s a group show on at Nicoletti at the moment. Nicoletti does have a consistent feel, a fingerprint, a strong identity in terms of the art they show, there is a constant thread, right now they have what we assume in the first part of a three part exhibition. Do like Nicoletti, they can get a little wordy about things though

–  “total climate is a three-part exhibition reflecting upon the relationship between colonial history and ecology. Inspired by discourses exploring the links between social inequality, structural racism and environmental deterioration, total climate presents the work of artists whose practices conjure the interwovenness of natural and historical processes, exposing the way in which natural exploitation, cultural domination and territorial possession are often part of the same imperial gesture. In total climate part 1: the infinitesimal and the mobile, we begin investigating the nature and effects of this entanglement through a material approach of the environment. Featuring works by Mercedes Azpilicueta, Gaëlle Choisne, Evan Ifekoya, Paul Maheke, Josèfa Ntjam and Daniela Ortiz, the exhibition examines how the most tenuous and volatile elements condition reality as we experience it. As a reverse implication, the artworks presented here consider the ways in which historical mechanisms, affects and trauma are embedded in the very composition of the environment, including our bodies and the air we breathe” –

All well and good but is it a visually exciting stimulating art exhibition? Are all those worthy words backed up? Well yes actually, but does it engage in the way I assume the curator or gallery want it to? Probably not, the worthy words, the challenge offered in the statement doesn’t quite marry up with the actual experience of the actual art, the intellectual essay isn’t really engaged by the pieces standing there or hanging there, the words and the actual pieces of art feel somewhat detached from each other, from the message (the argument?). Sure, as pieces of art they do talk to each other, as a show it is one whole, and yes the free standing pieces do demand you stay and watch the film(s) on the big screen, a big screen that thankfully doesn’t dominate the space too much when it so very easily could (is it a film or a collection of films?). The art does do the talking itself, this is a good show, but hey, come on!     

“The title of this project reflects this double movement. Borrowed from American scholar Christina Sharpe, who defines racism not only as an ideology or a set of actions but as a ‘total climate’, it implies that colonisation contaminates the entirety of the environment, down to particles and electrons that flow through the wind and sea, stratifying in rocks and soil while deeply penetrating the respiratory system”.

Total Climate – Nicoletti Gallery, East London, July 2022

and… “Conversely, a number of artworks in the exhibition suggest that it is at a molecular level that such violence can be opposed. They draw our senses to the various qualities of matter – solid, liquid, sonic – while alluding to their affective, psychical and ritualistic dimensions. Other artworks establish parallels between molecular processes of division, coagulation, proliferation, and the micro-organisations that spread within disparate cells of society to infiltrate dominant political bodies. Some refer to state strategies monitoring the cellular composition of our bodies to tighten border control; others imagine symbiotic alliances between humans, animals and microbes”.

And what I’m really thinking here is, as much as I enjoyed the show and as much as I always like being in the space, and I did like the way the pieces did communicate, what I’m really thinking here, after reading that statement is, frankly, sometimes, art can be full of shit! I’m not saying that as an essay the statement isn’t stimulating, it is, but if art really wants to engage with a public rather than just revolve around those small circles it so often likes to stay in well, ummm, and more importantly does any of the art in the gallery really properly relate to the statement? Art should stimulate, yes it should foster (a) debate, it should say something when we need it to, it should never ever have to dumb down to reach people and really anyone who says it does is kind of insulting the general gallery-going public, but really does art have to be so fat up itself?!     
“Moving beyond inherited categories of body and mind, science, beliefs and fiction, the artists in total climate also attempt to devise concrete, everyday strategies of survival. Building on Frantz Fanon’s notion of ‘combat breathing’, which opposes the somatic penetration of colonial state violence, breathing practices are presented here as tactics for subjected bodies to regroup energies, affirm and expand  total climate is curated by a research group composed of artist Gaëlle Choisne, NıCOLETTı’s director Camille Houzé and curator and researcher Estelle Marois”

– and I’m reading this grand show statement having rather enjoyed the actual experience in the gallery and now I’m just thinking in an eye-rolling kind of way, I’m thinking “whatever”. I’m actually feeling a little turned off by it all  – and as a sidenote here the gallery seems to insist on the use of lower case for the title total climate, which kind of adds to the after show annoyance and am I feeling heat or cold? Sunshine or rain? A sense of inequality? Is this all at odds with the current context? or shall I just piss off to The Approach for a pint and some paintings…

Phillip AllenCoarse Grain, The Approach, East London, July 2022

Early in the evening but The Approach is already busy, is it the result of “the intra-actions of matter and meaning, both taken in a constant centrifugal movement” or just the excitement of a rather good painter in Philip Allen? A new show called Coarse Grain and this time the paintings are far bigger than they were in the last Phillip Allen exhibition here. Rainbow Drops this time rather than the thick pieces of the kind of deadly icing sugar you’d get on a birthday cake in the 70’s that you’d want to break off his paintings and eat last time around.  Apparently the paintings are made using small polystyrene balls mixed with an acrylic primer, not sure I wanted to know that? Sometimes knowing less is more. These pieces feel like they’re emerging, or that something is emerging from them, that something is happening within the painting, not quite within the soul, under the surface though. Is this enough? Is this the total opposite to the current show up the road at Nicoletti? Is it enough to just see (and want to reach out and touch) some exciting paintings? Do we have to get into the gestalt of it all? The quiche lorraine attitudes of the juxtaposition of underlying current? Do we need art speak (dare we call bullshit?) or can we just enjoy the seemingly untethered quality of these ambitions Phillip Allen paintings? What is art for? Many things.

Not sure if these latest pieces are quite as enjoyable as the smaller Phillip Allen paintings of last time around? Maybe a touch of the intensity has been lost in the ambition of the bigger pieces? In the relative whiteness? Or maybe we knew a little more in terms of what we could expect this time around? Not sure if these piece are, as has been argued elsewhere, “inherently psychedelic”, not really feeling that or indeed wanting to, they are engaging though, they do hold you, they do pull you in, they might not “feed your head”, but they are gloriously compelling, they do hold your eye (and they are seemingly impossible to photograph either by me or on the gallery’s own website), And yes, you could argue the fact that a painting – in its most basic form – is simply an image floating on a wall also makes it a kind of perception without object, but really all that needs to happen here is that you just need to go to this latest Philip Allen exhibition and enjoy it, An Allen is fast becoming a powerful experience, surely that’s enough? Surely nothing else is needed and gawd I detest art speak when good art really should speak for itself like it does at this show at The Approach.  (sw)   

The Approach, 1st Floor, 47 Approach Road, Bethnal Green, London E2 9LY, Access to the gallery via The Approach Tavern pub, there’s a brown door at the end of the bar that the staff may or may not feel like pointing out to you. Gallery open: Wednesday – Sunday: 12–6pm or by appointment, Phillip Allen’s Coarse Grain runs until 6th August 2022.

Nicoletti Contemporary. You find the gallery in the middle of the street, 12a Vyner Street, London, E2 9DG. The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, 11am – 6pm. Total Climate Part 1 runs until July 30th

Previously on these pages – ORGAN THING: Modest paintings, small paintings, very big paintings, Phillip Allen at The Approach gallery, London E2…

ORGAN THING: An East London Gallery Crawl? Don’t know about that but “Somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond” is well worth catching at Nicoletti Contemporary…

Do as always ciick on an image to enlarge or to get a flavour, the Phillip Allen photos do his painting no justice…

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