BOUND showcases the work of four MA graduates of four London-based art colleges who have just completed a year-long residency at Acme’s Warton House studios in Stratford and it is the result of Peer’s third year generous partnership with Acme. For all of you who do not know it, Acme is an organisation that provides nearly 600 affordable studio spaces to artist across London. In other words, this show must be seen as an opportunity for the selected artists to say thank you, firstly, to Acme for a year of free studio space and, seconly, to Peer for giving them a prestigious platform where to be seen by other galleries and institutions in order to take their careers to the next level. So what did they make of this opportunity?
Let’s clear the air and talk about James Tailor. Noblesse oblige, he is one of my best friends and I was somehow involved in discussions around the work he presented. If that makes me partial, mea culpa. Having made that clear I think that, from the very beginning, his decision was to up his game creating a piece that to date is his most ambitious and monumental one. ‘These Hands’ (2018) is a five metre wide ‘painting’ made by laying expensive acrylic paint onto glass in layer after layer which are left to dry until they can be manipulated into luscious marshmellowish folds onto stretchers. By sheer presence, it commands the show. Somehow autobiographical, the foldable pink material which is both unbreakable and fragile functions as an allegory of gay identity and of the complex relationship that he had with his father. In the tradition of Eva Hesse’s autobiographical and proto-feminist discussions with modernism (minimalism, in her case), James’ large piece presents itself as a painting because of its shape (its proportions and dimensions are reminiscent of those canonical Jackson Pollock paintings from the 1950s) and the fact that it hangs from the wall. James’ work should be also understood in the context of that refunctionalisation of materials that feminist art has introduced into art since the 1960s which has also helped modernism survive. What differences James’ work from those early ‘feminist’ approaches it that he stands on the cornice between modernism and postmodernism which adds a layer of nostalgia to an already melancholic biographical piece. An obvious point of comparison might be with Turner Prize nominee, Angela de la Cruz. James’ modernist paintings avoid, however, the easy (sometimes lazy) theatricality of the London based Galician artist who manipulate the materials to create anthromorphised ‘characters’ transforming the exhibition space into a stage. By contrast, James talks about himself without renouncing to the modernist ideals of the autonomy of the work of art. His ‘Muddy Water’ (2018) reverses this criteria transforming the painting into an assemblage that crushes the luscious materials inside of itself creating a work that is both rough and melancholic without falling into the trap of forcing a narrative into it, as Angela de la Cruz always do.
Dominic Dispirito’s attitude couldn’t be different from James Tailor’s. Although the introductory text to his work states that his ‘painting, sculpture and animation has its roots in digital technology such as iPhone apps’, there is not much visual evidence of this. The text also indicated that his works were produced in the last few weeks and the two large pieces were made in just a day or two. Dispirito seems to want to make a point of this cathartic drive, transforming that speed into a source of artistic value when saying that they ‘deal with anxieties around surviving in the world in which we live’. From a strictly formal point of view, these paintings are deliberately ‘bad’ and that might be a conceptual decision if we take into account that the artist not only has a formal education but has also been awarded the UCL Slade’s Adrian Carruthers Award. As ‘bad painting’, his work could be compared to Susan Rothenberg’s or the kind of work that curator Marcia Tucker included in her legendary New Museum show in the early 1980s. While back then this might have been perceived as productive reactions to the canonical Greenbergian modernism of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, in today’s context, however, they come accross as performative (‘I deal with anxieties around surviving in the world in which we live’). It is as if the viewer cannot approach this piece for what it is but for its process of making. Is this ‘action painting’? Are we supposed to understand the fact that they are bad as a conceptually cathartic expression of the artist’s anger and, I would dare to say, mysoginy if we bear in mind that one of the women depicted is, at the same time, monumentally sexualised and beheaded? The artist’s contained anger can also be appreciated at the level of his ‘erudite’ allegories which do not invite the viewer with a nod but instead exclude him or her without any obvious need to do so. For example, the figure covering his ears at the bottom of ‘Who’s not welcome at the dinner table?’ (2018) is an allusion to the syphillitic figure at the centre left of Bronzino’s Allegory at the National Gallery in London. If so, the allusion is far to cryptic and specialised and comes across as name dropping. In other words, anger…
Alex Urie’s large and rather elegant ‘process driven’ conceptual paintings make a point of the fact that they are made with stains and that they stand as registers of (the duration of) its making. I have seen a few of these ‘process driven stain pieces’ at the Turps Studio graduate show too so I have the feeling that they are somehow trendy. My problem with these three pieces is their lack of presence. I don’t know whether it is the palette which is too pale, the composition that is too Dada (?) or the fact that Urie has nothing really to say apart from displaying his style. Those pieces are like talking to people in an opening. Much has been said but you cannot remember it. Besides, being in the same room than Tailor’s ‘These Hands’ do not make them any favour. Last but not least, Chris Timms. I was present when one of his performances was taking place. I assume that the girl performing was not him so he uses actors as performers which makes his work Brechtian. There is something of Augusto Boal’s ‘Invisible Theatre’ in the flash mob (in this case, a single person) quality of something that happens without being really announced. The girl was stuttering and listening to music in her I Phone. She was unconvincing and too English. She would be any woman in the tube talking to herself. If the point of that performance was to create a space of incompleteness that demands some action to be taken by the viewer, this does not happen. The problem with that performance lies in its delivery. It is just too shy and almost, bureaucratic. This is why I think that in Bound there were two sides: the lazy ones and the ones who have something to say. I put Tailor and Urie among the latter. J. A. T.