It was indeed with a genuine froth of excitement that we headed towards Caroline Coon‘s newly opened exhibition of paintings “Love of Place” on the first full day of it being open over in the plush gallery district of the West End – might have been even more exciting to see it in an unused shop next to a chippy on the Harrow Road or on Ladbrook Grove but hey. Clearly Stephen Friedman Gallery are laying down a marker or two in both of their Old Burlington Street spaces, as we pointed out in our preview last week, looks like Stephen Friedman are going to come up with the goods during Frieze London again this year, just as the gallery did with Deborah Roberts last year – The Ten Best Things we saw during 2021’s Frieze Week, Deborah Roberts, The Pink Bear, The Factory Project, Kendall Koppe Gallery, Kate Bickmore’s must-see paintings at Annka Kultys Gallery and…
“Stephen Friedman Gallery is pleased to present a solo exhibition by Caroline Coon” read the release and we were rather pleased to be going to see it. There are two paintings in here that are just glorious, well everything in here is far more than just good, of course it is, but there are two in-particular, a pair of paintings so alive with West London light and life and well, she’s got ‘it’ just so right – “Focusing on her local neighbourhood in West London, the show brings together a selection of the artist’s ‘Urban Landscapes’ made over the past twenty-five years. Scenes of everyday life depicting roadways, social housing and canals, shoppers and pram-pushing mothers, are peppered with subtle allusions to the city’s darker underbelly”. That one really does feel like the Harrow Road, the people, the place, and the morning light is just perfect (something you really can’t see in anyone’s photos of the piece), “Early Morning, Harrow Road” (2008) is one of those paintings that just makes you want to quietly punch the air in delight – of course you can’t punch the air and shout a “yeah” of delight in a stiffly formal West End Gallery but that light is so so good, those three figures crossing a road we know so well, the stories her painting tells, the respect, and yes, the love of place. Early Morning‘s sister piece, an almost equally exciting painting called Carnival Sunday Morning tells similar stories, that anticipation before it all starts, the kids with the balloons, I love those two paintings, there’s just so much invested in them, so much to read, so much humanity, so much of everything.
“Faithful depictions of Ladbroke Grove’s bustling community and architectural landmarks are juxtaposed with fantastical images of male and female commuters stripped of their clothing. Coon’s distinctive style is characterised by crisp-edged lines, bright colours and hyperrealism redolent of Paul Cadmus and Tamara de Lempicka”.
There more than a few undercurrents in her humanity, her feminism, her crispness – she is very crisp, clean, never cold though, and yes it does feel like Ladbrook Grove, there’s something about that part of West London, the killing jokes and the view from under the West Way, the West London of The Clash, of Crash, of Tom Mahler, Robert Calvert and his gang of Hawks and yes of Caroline Coon and her watching it all go by. Maybe you need to have lived there and absorbed some of it? Could she paint the East End like this? Must ask Tom Vague what he makes of it?
The prospect of this Caroline Coon exhibition opening was genuinely exciting, kind of found myself almost rushing down the road from the Nick Grindrod show in Soho’s Bateman Street to see it, exploring art is good for your soul (even if the overheard conversations in West End galleries can sometimes be very annoying), as the other Sean often says, art is generally a force for good. I like the things Caroline Coon elects to paint, I like the things her paintings suggest, or do they just outright say rather than merely suggest? I like the way she questions the viewer.
“Inspired by feminism and the politics of sexual liberation, Coon’s wider practice is dedicated to contesting binary notions of gender and oppressive patriarchal values. Her work covers a variety of subjects including sex workers, beachgoers, intersex people, still lifes and football players. Coon’s paintings are united in their unwavering rebellion against the status quo”, I like Caroline Coon.
There’s two Stephen Friedman gallery spaces on Old Burlington Street, they’re over the street from each other, and well over the road from Caroline Coon’s exhibition, there’s a different feel with the very painterly Anne Rothenstein show. It is kind of good that they are in different buildings – not that they’re at odds with each other or anything, more than you just need that road between them in that way I imagine you need a dry biscuit when tasting wine (I’ve never been one for wine tasting, whatever cheap red they have at an open does for me)
“Focusing on portraiture, interiors and landscapes, the show brings together a group of new paintings that Rothenstein has created in the last two years. It is the artist’s first exhibition with the gallery”. Anne Rothenstein makes subtle suggestions, her paintings are quiet, they are alive though, alive with an understated tension, with transient atmosphere, with, I almost want to say a mysterious dreamstate but no, that’s not right, that sounds far too throwaway. She has a delicious palette, subtle layers, everything about these paintings is subtle, quiet. Twilight, beautiful textures, slightly strange figures, not too strange though, nothing disturbing, almost rather inviting really, enticing. Her paintings are big both in terms of size and ambition, the size here is important, the size invites you in, to spend time in each one, subtle suggestions of narratives, nothing that clear, not that you want (or need) any of it to be. There’s something calming about being in here, big galleries are generally calming places anyway, but there’s something about being in here, in the back room, each one of us viewers just quietly absorbed, it kind of feels like the Rothko room in the Tate Modern, very different painters but somehow at the same time, maybe not so different. There’s a calming beauty to Anna Rothenstein’s work, there are subtle undercurrents though, subltle suggestions… (sw)
Stephen Friedman Gallery is at 25-28 Old Burlington Street, London, W1S 3AN. Both shows opened on Thursday 22nd September and run until 5th Nov 2022. Open Tuesday until Saturday, 10am until 6pm besides Saturdays when 11am until 5pm are the hours the gallery like to keep.
As always do click on an image to see it all or to run the slide show