Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Still Live

I really enjoyed Emma Bennett's second solo show at Charlie Smith, London which was
a nice contemporary take on C17th Dutch/Spanish still life. At first glance you could almost think these paintings were made at the same time as their historical antecendents, but after closer inspection you realise the paired-down compositions and mysterious configurations of objects root them firmly in a more contemporary moment. In this, Bennett manages to walk that fine line between over-referencing sources on one hand, and appearing too obviously 'now' on the other.

Emma Bennett Nor Any Haunt of Mine 140x110cms Oil on Canvas 2012
 These paintings absorb the viewer in a ghostly world where the objects, whilst ostensibly inanimate, become protagonists in an unspecified drama which unfolds before the indeterminate dark space of the backgrounds which unite each composition and comprise a link between each field of existence. These are assuredly symbolic spaces, where each element is carefully orchestrated for dramatic effect, the sparse arrangements locked in high tension which draws the observer in.

Emma Bennett Unknown Quantities 122x91.5cms Oil on Canvas 2012

I have also noticed Damien Meade's work in a number of group shows including The Future Can Wait, as well as the focus of an article in Turps Banana by Geraint Evans. Meade, like contemporaries such as William Daniels and Paul Housely, paints from strange models that he makes in the studio - in this case they are anthropomorphic shapes fashioned from clay, wire and other basic materials, which reference the classical portrait bust.

These works remind me of the classical terms in Poussin's paintings, or the crumbling sculptures in the game paintings of Jan Weenix.

Damien Meade Talcum 2011 Oil on linen on board 66.5x44.5cms

Nicolas Poussin A Bacchanalian Revel Before a Term  1632-3 Oil on canvas 98 x 142.8 cm 
Another contemporary painter working from models in this way is Meade's countryman Donal Moloney.
Moloney constructs intricate environments featuring organic shapes and plants, over which he projects psychadelic patterns, the results of which are rendered in painstaking detail on small canvases. These still life pieces set up disorientating spaces in which the viewer is unsure of what exactly it is that they are looking at, whether a real or imagined scene, a narrative or abstract space, yet one which is presented in almost hyper-realistic detail.

Donal Moloney Shrines 2011 Oil and acrylic on canvas 43 x 58 cms 

It is exciting to see so much evidence of the continuing revival of the still life  in contemporary painting, when not so long ago it seemed to be a genre that few thought could ever be relevant again.