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Creating Distorted Figures

28 Mar

Tate Britain‘s exhibition Picasso and Modern British Art sets out to trace Pablo Picasso‘s influence on Britain. Hence much of the exhibition looks at British artists influenced by Picasso, including Henry Moore, Francis Bacon and Ben Nicholson, drawing upon the research carried out for other recent exhibitions and the Tate’s own collection, and the exhibition consequently features several works that have appeared recently. Therefore it seems more targeted at the casual audience and tourists during this Olympic year, trying to introduce fresh audiences to the British artists shown. A considerable space and volume of wall text is devoted to indicating works bought by British collectors. This doesn’t seem to add much to the understanding of the artist’s work, or really to indicate that British collectors had a taste for particular genres of Picasso’s practice, but does help to reinforce the country’s importance within the art world and as a powerful nation in the modern world. Indeed a more pressing reason for this section may be to encourage visitors to collect the work of contemporary artists, demonstrating that British collectors can help cultivate major artists, and that by collecting work, one day you might be remembered by being named in a museum exhibiting it in the future.

The Three Dancers, 1925 by Pablo Picasso. Courtesy Tate © Succession Picasso/DACS 2011

Picasso is famous for his fluid style and open interpretation of what he saw, combining different views or angles into one image. Hence some of his portraits are less than flattering overall as facial features juxtapose themselves.  This is similarly born out in Moore’s sculptures, but in a more fluid and curvilinear, abstract manner.

Sudo, 2010 by Damien Meade. Oil on linen on board 55 x 44.5 cm.

Damien Meade has three paintings in the SV12 Members Show at Studio Voltaire, which seem to represent contorted faces, reflecting the edginess of Picasso’s portraits.  Meade seems to depict figures formed perhaps of randomly amassed lumps of clay, heaped off cuts on the junk pile waiting to be reformed into something new, recycled into something with a purpose or else with beauty that will be admired.  However these sloven characters seem to reflect the realities of life, presenting figures that are beautiful inside but which may be battle-scarred on the surface, perhaps soldiers injured at war. These paintings also remind of Rebecca Warren‘s sculptures, which in turn may reference Moore through their abstract form.

Piri, 2011 by Damien Meade. Oil on linen on board 64.5 x 49 cm.

Meanwhile at Charlie Dutton Gallery Meade has a small solo show featuring works that resemble the silhouette and bust-like characters depicted on the cards of the detective board game Cluedo.  However where the suspects in the game are all known, here we have a more likely line-up of unidentified characters, their silhouette seen from behind, but otherwise these characters remain dark and mysterious like a series of neoclassical ebony busts turned away from the audience.  The apparently near smooth form of these anonymous figures, as though smothered in thick gloss paint, reflects on the refined surfaces of Moore’s carved figures.  Hence if we consider his work as portraiture, Meade captures only a limited amount of his model in their silhouette, whilst perhaps reflecting them more through ideas that may be related to their imagery.  As it might be said of selected artists throughout time, it is as though Meade is treating his models in works such as Piri (2011) as playing pieces in the game he is in charge of, adopting a god-like stance, but then on the other hand an artist may be treated like a playing piece by galleries, collectors and museums.

Figure 117: Commelina diffusa by Carlos Noronha Feio

Carlos Noronha Feio, whose carpets we featured in the article Works of Art for All Surfaces, now has a solo exhibition of collages at IMT Gallery. Here he has combined a collection of images of mushroom clouds caused by atomic bombs, cut out and over layered to create plant-like forms. He has then classified their botanical forms according to a book published in the year of the first atomic bomb test, the project and exhibition baring its title. Whilst this work ostensibly has political undercurrents of being against the use or ownership of nuclear weapons, it does not actually say this. Instead, it observes the beauty of the near symmetrical form that has occurred through the nature of chemical reactions. If you follow the teleological argument for the existence of a god, as posed by William Paley in 1802, that if something beautiful like a watch must have a designer then the beauty of the natural world must be designed by a god, surely this conversely means that designers play at being gods.  Hence Feio likewise highlights the men involved in designing and using nuclear weapons are playing at being gods through the design of such a perfect weapon, with near perfect symmetry in the cloud that forms organically from the chemical reaction, as much as they play with the lives of all living organisms in the targeted area like chess pieces on a board cast aside in a temper.

By translating these forms into botanic forms Feio relates the term applied to them, the name of a species of fungus, back to the natural world, as the consequences continue to remain elusive and open to scientific research. This work seems to fit with the figurative work discussed as humans are just another species, but although the output is of gnarled and fluffy plant forms, the collage technique also seems to relate to work by John Stezaker, mentioned in the article Constructing Photography Now, that creates distorted figurative forms by collaging found landscape images of mountainous forests from old postcards.

At the same time Thomas Ruff has a series of images on exhibition at Gagosian, Davies Street, where he has enlarged pornographic photographs until the detail of the models is similarly rendered in a blurred and slightly unfocused manner, perhaps critiquing the availability of such found imagery in magazines and on the internet, by providing the model a little more modesty, or alternatively reflecting upon hedonistic nights out including a visit to a strip club. As we have seen across these artists’ work, obscuring the detailed reality of the human form offers the opportunity to apply imagination as both artist and as a third-party viewer. Meanwhile the monumental scale of Ruff’s prints seems to address advertising billboards baring models with little more clothing and offering a larger than life reality.

nudes dr02, 2011 by Thomas Ruff. Unique C-Print 266 x 186 cm. © 2012 Thomas Ruff, courtesy Gagosian Gallery

As Feio’s work discusses beauty in the natural world and the near perfect symmetry of atomic weapons, Picasso, Meade and Ruff take different approaches to depicting the beauty of the human form, each applying their own perspective to their subject.

Picasso & Modern British Art is at Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1P 4RG until 15th July 2012.
SV12 Members’ Show is at Studio Voltaire, 1a Nelson’s Row, London SW4 7JR until 31st March.
Damien Meade is at Charlie Dutton Gallery, 1a Princeton Street, London WC1R 4AX until 31st March.
Carlos Noronha Feio – Plant Life of the Pacific World is at IMT Gallery, Unit 2/210 Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9NQ until 1st April.
John Stezaker is short listed for the 2012 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize at The Photographers’ Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW (dates tbc).
Thomas Ruff – nudes is at Gagosian Gallery, 17-19 Davies Street, London W1K 3DE until 21st April.

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