London Art Pitch is a monthly column by Jamie Sterns, a New York curator and writer attending school in the British capital.
Summer is upon London and this usually grey city is full of sunshine and light. Complementing the temperature rise, two exhibitions, one by Jesse Wine at Limoncello and the other by Alex Olson at Laura Bartlett Gallery have added visual pop and colorful reverie to these summer days.
“Jesse Wine: BIG PICTURES” at Limoncello, through August 15, 2015
Jesse Wine’s exhibition is at first glance a humble affair. It consists of four large ceramic works hanging on as many walls. The understatement of the installation has a slight feeling, but as you spend time in the space and with the pieces the sparseness recedes and the works’ honesty comes through.
The pieces are made of glazed ceramic slabs a bit larger than a typical sheet of paper, which are assembled in a grid to form an image. Wine describes these works as paintings and they are: their ceramic materiality seems like a vehicle for textures as opposed to a riff on the sculpture/painting dichotomy.
In style and image each work feels entirely different from the next. This produces a strangeness, a discontinuity that is overall a detriment to the show as a whole, but each has enough content and weight to holds its own.
I can like anything (2015) is the most lyrical of the works, with white glaze and a blue freehand sketch of what looks like scattered clothes on the ground or a person who has dissolved and has left remnants of his or her attire. The texture is presented with clarity, and the process of creating them is revealed without fuss. There is an unlabored and unprecious treatment of the surface; the ceramics’ bubbles and unevenness impart a softness.
Still.Life is a more considered affair, immediately suggesting a Giorgio Morandi still life, except that that Italian artist’s trademark bottles are joined, coyly, by a mug from Sports Direct (a ubiquitous department store for sportswear throughout London). There is a brownness in this work that seems muddy but as you retreat to see it from afar there is a subtlety in those muddy browns that create lighting effects.
This brownness recurs in The whole vibe of everything (2015), which is an almost cheesy redub of a Japanese panel painting with a white crane plucking a pearl off a branch. Here the brown has a sheen, a patina of golden bronze that makes the elegiac quality of this form of art even more heavy handed. The initial cheesy factor is not so much about Wine though; it is more about the viewer and the reflexive recognition of this type of imported imagery and what that triggers. The unapologetic and direct way in which Wine pays homage to this type of work feels quite sincere, though, and there is a care in this work that unwinds the tension of cultural appropriation.
In contrast to the faux serenity of this work is BIG PICTURES, the show’s namesake. This is a visual shocker next to the others, as the colors are from household paint atop the ceramic slabs. It is an aerial view of the artist’s bedroom, and shows a red carpet on a blue floor with a yellow multi-socket plug. The opacity of the paint makes the tiles transform into seemingly squishable Play-Doh or some other childhood memory material. The unevenness of the surface and the slices of them become cake like and the handmade quality is reemphasized.
This final work and the accumulation of the other works evoke a sense of domesticity in the whole show. One quickly imagines these in a collector’s home, and the selection reflects very different people and very different settings. Even with this off-the-wall showroom setup there is substance, as Wine’s works have an internal logic that sustains them. If you take the time to look for it in his works, you will find sincerity; however, with perhaps a bit more consideration in connecting them, it would be easier to find.
“Alex Olson: Scene of Elastic Sight” at Laura Bartlett Gallery, through July 19, 2015
Alex Olson can paint. There are some painters that are painter-painters and she is certainly one of them. Her recently closed exhibition at Laura Bartlett Gallery was a visual stunner and fresh even for the most art-saturated viewer.
The theme of the show was the eye, and the process of seeing, and Olson did not fail in this focus. The gallery was filled with a variety of paintings in a variety of scales that use color, geometry, and texture to create rhythms and visual rewards. There was a pace to the show that felt jubilant—like the excitement you have when you are about to jump into a pool. There was a flowing cadence of colors that permeates viewers’ bodies creating visual pops and waves.
Channel (2) (all works 2015) creates this pop with its grid of tangerine circles that are made from modeling paste and oil on linen. It looks as if the bottoms or tops of paint cans were molded out and they puncture a blue, purple, grey textured backdrop. The contrast of tones and material densities is delightful and it looks as though it was fun to make and that in turn makes it fun to look at.
More straightforward optical tricks can be seen in Wayfinder (Day) and Wayfinder (Dusk), which have an abstracted radial dial that is measuring out the sun. The slight line, the splitting of the canvas in sections of color shifts, is perfectly precise but from a greater distance you see a type of visual magic in the tonal blurring that makes all that geometry feel organic and hazy.
Geometry was key throughout the show and the usually unforgiving vertical line and what it connotes of the body and the splitting of the visual plane has been reenergized in Olson’s hands. In Screen and Side, vertical strips of color are doing their usual thing but at one edge of these Olson has flicked them to have erratic triangular tails. This flick creates a buzzing, a visual gyration that reverbs the color and the space of the canvas.
The other works in the show also played with space, light, color, and texture in inventive and experimental ways. There is a generosity throughout these works and a balance which is a feat when dealing with so many different forms and with shifting hues. Each canvas has it’s own energy, and a sharpness in terms of execution and conceptual content.
Op art has its history. It has been trendy before, and it at times has had low-brow associations, but what Olson is doing with it is invigorating and fresh. This is especially satisfying to see in the wake of all the vague, bland abstract painting that contemporary art is slowly coming out of. It feels as though Olson is having a party while others are in the line for a club that doesn’t even exist. With the energy and actual delight that seems to exude from her work, hers is a party I want to be invited to.