Guest art reviewer Sophie Whenham admires a revival of traditional drawing techniques amongst some young British artists…
A recent article by Jonathan Jones entitled Get up and demand better British art prompted me to think about the contemporary art scene: for many people, so much of it is inaccessible, incomprehensible and unoriginal. And the hysteria surrounding some exhibitions promotes them as the Event of the moment, which tends to foster a rather superficial attitude towards the art itself. I have only to think of the time I queued for six and half hours for a Banksy exhibition; I couldn’t help but think that the speed with which the crowds jostled through implied that many people were there more to soak up the ‘event’ than pay attention to the art.
To quote Jones, ‘a single piece of art, if it is great, demands endless looking’, yet the notion of a must-see exhibition betrays this. With this is mind, it was completely refreshing to attend Antlers Gallery’s ‘Other Nature’ show held at Frameless Gallery, Islington.
Antlers is a ‘nomadic’ gallery based in Bristol [you can read Brit’s interview piece with Tim Lane, another young artist from the Antlers stable, here – Ed]. It brings together a collection of artists connected to one another by their reversion to traditional drawing techniques, making the work easy to appreciate aesthetically for the average exhibition goer, and endlessly fascinating for the art enthusiast.
The first work on show, by Ellie Coates, is an example of how rich a work can become when due attention is paid. At first glance, the small, faded image looks swamped by the mass of white wall that surrounds it. On closer inspection, the Victoriana framing of the image of bees chained to a plant conjures up ideas of old curiosity museums, and a deeper look reveals the intricacy of Coates’ style. First, her paper is prepped with rabbit skin glue and gesso to provide thickness, and then in this image she has carefully cut around the bees’ wings and lifted them up. The effect is subtle but exquisite; something like delicate porcelain, but with a luminescent gleam.
The ‘book sculptures’ by Alexander Korzer-Robinson continue this intricate theme. Constructed by the artist carefully working through the book and cutting around images already present, he creates a stage-like piece that is bizarre, irreverent and captivating.
Other standout works, in complete contrast to the aforementioned, are the larger-than-life-size animal images by Abigail Reed. Completely monochrome and depicted using fluid ink that is allowed to drip in a seemingly careless way, these pieces offer refreshing immediacy in a sea of detail.
If there was a fault with this exhibition, it would be precisely this. Whilst the works, as great art, do demand endless looking, many are so complex that this exhibition is mentally exhausting. I fail to see the beauty in Anouk Mercier’s sickeningly kitsch cats, which remind me of the scratchboard drawings I would complete as a child. Under extreme scrutiny, the skill of Mercier’s hand in undeniable, but this fails to detract from the evil glare of these less than charming animals…
Perhaps the superficial attitude many gallery-goers have is somewhat justified; the most satisfying artistic creations are those that strike a balance between immediate impact and sustained interest.
On this note, I have saved my favourite artist for last. Max Naylor’s etchings are the kind of quirky mayhem that is reminiscent of doodling, all unfinished lines that run into the next image. Landscapes depicted look familiar to everyone, yet specific to no one…
These are the kind of day-dreamy images that you could lose yourself in for unsubstantiated amounts of time; something not often found in contemporary art. In the words of Jonathan Jones, get up and demand better British art!
‘Other Nature’ presented by Antlers Gallery @ Frameless Gallery, Islington. The exhibition is now finished, but you can find out more about Antlers and their latest projects at their website.
Pictures reproduced by kind permission of Antlers Gallery.