This month I steer a path carefully away from my preceding theme of weaponization for some fairly obvious reasons. Instead, I look at the monochromatic, but never monotheistic delights of the group exhibition Grayscale at Simon Lee Gallery in London, I have to say that SLG is one of my favourite spaces and shows some choice artists, even if their exhibition schedule is sometimes rather hard to keep pace with given the hectic show turnover.
Grayscale sounds rather dull in the reading, like an Adobe Photoshop file output preference in fact, but actually this show contains some real gems: My very favourite being Erin Shirreff’s rather mysterious Fig. 10, an exquisitely seen and executed print of a cryptic, seemingly elephantine object. Fitting with the theme of the grigio beautifully I guess. I have actually no idea if there was any kind of narrative to this piece, but it was so stunning, that, rarely for me, I didn’t actually care. One that I would love to own I think.
Bernard Frize’s Elba, whilst referencing the rather beautiful but quite isolated isle of Napoleon’s place of exile, reminds me oddly of both Hieronymus Bosch and the movie Groundhog Day in the same moment. Frize’s image taunts and haunts as it depicts a landscape reminiscent of purgatory on the one hand, and of volcanic dysfunction on the other. A harsh image which actually makes little direct reference to the alleged location, but which yields much about the titular/resonant idea of place rather than the place itself. The image, whilst within the broad context of grayscale actually looks like a chromatic aberration one used to see in wet photography gone wrong.
Mai-Thu Perret’s Yesterday Rain, Clear Skies Tomorrow makes tangential references to weather, unusually through the medium of ceramic. The work is visually surprisingly simple but materially complex in a way that intrigues beyond the Matisse-like cut-out shape. The surface is indeed redolent of rain, but fixed as it is through firing, we are drawn to a material irony that demands more attention.
Clare Woods Too Late, shows the artist’s facility with paint at its best. Aluminium is a great substrate for Woods as it facilitates fluid mark-making and a freedom of hand that is refreshing to see and remarkably rare in contemporary painting, which appears all too often as being ‘up-tight’ and conceptually grandiose, a lasting legacy of post-modernism I fear.
Toby Ziegler is a SLG regular, but Heirloom shows a rather different and extremely intriguing side to his work, away from the writhing sculptures, 3D printed objects and faceted lumps and light projections we have seen in recent years. Heirloom is actually a rather gentle and beautiful piece, patterns dance around the image like alighting snowflakes or fleeting pixels, seemingly frozen in print as they momentarily and mercurially touch-down.
Mel Bochner, I have to confess, is one of the artists I look at as I am fascinated by the trajectory of the work and output of the artist. He has, in the past, said that the term (and presumably the work) Blah, Blah, Blah represents “the black hole of language”; Bochner and Iggy Pop both I suspect. Bochner is suspicious, irreverent and smart, three qualities I think I have really come to value in artists, especially in what seems to be something of a Sargasso moment for the arts, apart from a few notable exceptions. Bochner has the rare ability to pierce and puncture the pretension and susceptibility of art without becoming either an apologist or agent-provocateur.
Overall, this show was a really pleasant surprise and not at all what I expected; the combination of the exhibition title, the colour referencing and the rather scant press release barely enticed me along, but actually I am so very glad I read, at least in this instance, between the lines. So a show to catch, but hurry, the next Simon Lee Gallery show will soon be upon us.