Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Suspicion on Vyner Street

About a month or two ago I read with interest Time Out’s outgoing art editor Sarah Kent’s critical account of current British art and in particular its latest trendy home of Vyner Street. Subsequent to this I also read Cathy Lomax response and her findings when she visited some of the exhibitions and galleries mentioned in Kent’s article. With these thoughts in mind I spent the early evening visiting two of the openings on Vyner Street.
The street is a particularly bleak and unwelcoming place and Cathy Lomax felt a similar unwelcoming attitude was evident within the galleries themselves. I attempted to put these things to the back of my mind entering the building that shares the Fred and David Risley galleries. I firstly take a look in Fred and am confronted by Peter Jones’ monkey paintings, they are technically very strong paintings being worked to high level and also with no small amount of effort, however, they carry no soul or heart. These images of toy monkeys are dark, depressing and joyless, some of these stuffed creatures smile but under the smirk lies what appears to be a hollow eyed cynicism, some gaze into the middle distance but others eye you suspiciously, the press release would have me believe that Jones’ has worked a large variety of emotions into the faces of these portraits but I only see emptiness, cynicism and suspicion. Interestingly the original toy monkeys would have had the projected joy, love and playfulness by their youthful owners and in later years were no doubt discarded and unloved due to the growing sophistication of their child companions, maybe this veiled mistrust or hatred for their lost friends is what the monkeys faces are projecting back at me. This is the point where I return to my initial thoughts regarding Cathy Lomax earlier Vyner Street experience, within my peripheral vision I have a sense that not only are the monkeys eyeing me with cynicism, mistrust or suspicion but with the odd glance shot my way the visitors and perhaps gallery staff too.
The David Risley Gallery is located in the same building next door to Fred and is showing their “Ball The Wall” exhibition with the artists Stephen Dean, James Hyde and Richard Woods. Hyde’s work doesn’t really engage me, perhaps it is too subtle after my moody experience next door and possibly I am in need of something with an obvious visual kick. Dean’s scrambled dartboards draw my eye, the structure of the boards has been relaxed and retightened, the boards have been scrambled and the form reassembled back into its familiar circular shape but its patterns and colours are now scrambled into a mess. It is Woods assemblage paintings that really grab me, there is something pleasing about the found backgrounds on which he spreads the gloopy irregular splurge of vivid gloss paint but there are two other things which I leave the gallery with as I head back past more suspicious eyes and onto Vyner Street, it is the strong smell of gloss paint, firstly I have memories of my father, a painter and decorator who carried this familiar unique smell on his work clothes, hands and hair. This is a connotation that is unintended by Woods but nevertheless a unique personal experience and memory for me. Secondly is an enduring sense that I always feel suspicious that any gallery that smells strongly of paint also smells vaguely of opportunism.

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