ORGAN THING: Tai Shan Schierenberg’s Headspace at Flowers Gallery, big show, big paintings, and not just in terms of size…

Tai Shan Schierenberg – Headspace at Flowers, Kingland Road, Shoreditch, East London – Now before anything else, yes I know, it really is slack of me to only be mentioning this show during the final week, I have been passing and admiring The General in the window on a weekly basis and I have been in and enjoyed the exhibition several times since it opened a couple of months ago (really must go one more time before it closes), I apologise for only just taking a moment to rush out some words (hey, things are busy here, mix tapes to make, leaves to be left, paint of my own to throw).   The almost always rewarding Kingsland Road branch of Flowers over here in East London, glorious space to just go soak up some art, this time they’ve been treating us to a solo exhibition of large-scale portraits by Tai Shan Schierenberg, bringing together works from the 2000s to the present day. (and yes it is a treat, east t otake it for granted that we can just walk in off the street and see exciting rewarding exhibitions like this for free)

Tai Shan Schierenberg’s paintings are big, not in terms of actual scale (although they are reasonably big in those terms as well), they’re just big. Big paintings, grand statements, things of depth. I hadn’t really connected the name of the artist with the artist who was Artist in Residence at West Bromwich Albion Football Club until I came out and saw The General in the window for the first time and had one of those “ah yes, he’s that artist” moments.

The General in the title of the painting in the window, the subject matter is then then West Brom manager Tony Pulis, an excellent painting that really does catch something of the attitude of (rather masculine world of) Pulis. Schierenberg’s period at West Brom resulted is some rather thrilling work from an artist who readily admitted he had little interest in the beautiful game before hand.  The painting in the window, is the only thing from that rather successful residency, and this still just about current exhibition at Flowers is, we’re told, an exhibition that explores “Schierenberg’s enduring fascination with reflecting human presence at monumental scale; the first exhibition to focus on his portrait works since the 1990s”.

I love the theatre of a Flowers, and that corner turned as you head in for a first look at the big wall that awaits you, Tai Shan Schierenberg is without a doubt an exciting artist, an artist who first came to any real attention for his figurative paintings in 1989, when he was awarded first place in the National Portrait Gallery’s Portrait Award (see, I can Google with the best of ’em), we’re told that “the head has remained a central motif throughout his oeuvre. In his numerous self-portraits and paintings of others, Schierenberg mobilizes the head as a form of critical enquiry. These immersive images are often enlarged to the point of near-abstraction, reflecting an existential excavation into how well we know ourselves and others”.  And that is the sense here, close examination, a look beyond, a look into that headspace, an often slightly different reality.


These painting are big, they’re exciting, they  demand you look properly, they don’t really look back at you, never than simple of obvious, none of that eyes-following-you-around-the-room nonsense. Schierenberg describes his practice as operating “between different modes of reproducing reality”, navigating a perceptual dividing line between surface and representation. Hinting at form with an economy of line, there’s a dynamic here, sculptural surfaces, almost a tension between the image and the life in his paint. He defines the constructed nature of his paintings as activating the experience of looking, allowing the mind to “recreate the image every time it is viewed.” Ah yes, as someone once said, ninety percent of art is looking, either as the one doing the one doing the doing or the one looking at the present results of that looking.

In here, alone with these big paintings in the very big room, in here up close, these are deep pieces, alive with powerfully engrocing mark-making, far more than just a surface, these are paintings that demand questions, that ask us questions, they’re full of life, light, they are what it is to paint. Someone tried to tell me that art galleries were dead now, that they were dead spaces. This space is never dead, this big room is one of the most alive places I know, and this time around it is so so full of so much, just to be in be in here for half and hour, just me and these demanding Tai Shan Schierenberg paintings is to be alive. Painting matters, there’s something precious here, something precarious, not fragile, these are strong pieces,, just me and these paintings (there might have been other people in here, I really couldn’t tell you, although they might have noted the idiot punching the air in delight after standing in front of a painting for what might have seemed like hours),

Yes, it is a rather this is a rather masculine exhibition, is there a female in here? Is that imortant? Certainly nothing wrong in what we find here, it isn’t the only show in town. I really should have said something before now, sorry, time is always being eaten and I feel like I’ve let you down, selfish of me not to mention it in time.   (sw)    

The East London branch of Flowers Gallery is at 82 Kingsland Road, London E2 8DP. The show goes on until 6th May 2023. Exhibition Opening Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm. Just ring the doorbell, this is a gallery where they actually smile when you ring their bell. Shoreditch Church end of Kingsland Road, just over from Great Art. Flowers have been brilliant in recent years, and all for free, very very easy to take all this for granted.

Do click on an image to enlarge and see it all, these poor quality images are there to give you a hint of a flavour. Do go if you have a chance.

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