in dreams at timothy taylor – opening
15 September 2010 § Leave a comment
In Dreams, Timothy Taylor Gallery, 8 September – 2 October 2010. Armen Eloyan, Volker Hueller, Tomasz Kowalski, Norbert Schwontkowski, Kiki Smith, Rose Wylie
Exhibition review by Sue Hall.
Remember that scene in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet where the frilly-shirted Dean Stockwell uses a worklight as a microphone and lip-synchs to Roy Orbison’s In Dreams while Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) comes over all peculiar? The title of the new exhibition of works on paper at Timothy Taylor Gallery refers to that scene in Lynch’s dark surreal film, and to the lyrics of Orbison’s song, with its allusions to the sandman of folklore and of E.T.A Hoffmann’s unheimlich tale. It’s a great image.
The exhibition features the work of six contemporary artists of different nationalities and generations and begins with Norbert Schwontonski’s small-scale, muted works, which evoke faded, out of reach other worlds. Surreal imagery, such as that in Kaputte Kalebasse, where a calabash gourd is pierced by a winding thorn ending in a lightbulb, provokes lots of questions but, as is the way with the surreal, no answers.
Schwontkowski, who lives and works in Bremen, taught the younger artist Volker Hueller and his influence is apparent in the latter’s restrained use of colour, and sense of inscrutability. Hueller’s large hand–coloured etchings, Waiting for the moon (2010) hark back to the drawings of George Grosz with a similar use of line and complexity of composition. Hueller uses collage too, but you have to look quite hard to see it. That’s Ok, because these works repay close examination: there’s so much going on and the violence and sexual tension only reveal themselves when you really look at them.
Tomasz Kowalski, a young Polish artist who lives and works in Berlin, paints lugubriously coloured portraits and figures that conjure up images of nineteenth century fairground impresarios. In spite of their macabre qualities they fail to entrance the viewer. Looking at them again in reproduction they are more arresting so perhaps it’s the medium that doesn’t really work. I’d like to see Kowalski’s larger oil paintings and sculptures: perhaps we could have a solo exhibition of his work?
Armenian artist Armen Eloyan is known for large impasto canvases and use of cartoon-like figures in human roles. The works shown here feature a Pinocchio style wooden doll having dreams, painting, feeling sad. The fairy tale quality of the subject matter is emphasized by the bold, graphic outlines and intense watercolour, as if in a children’s storybook. The artist has created a fantastical world; and these studio works allow us glimpses of it but don’t tell us the whole story. ‘A while ago the elephant ordered the ants to make him a burger’ stresses the peculiar logicality of the world of dreams.
Changing scale again (and this is one of the reasons the exhibition works) Kiki Smith’s three large collage and ink works on Nepal paper have an ethereal, elegiac quality. Produced following the death of her mother, the sense of loss is almost palpable. Who is going to sit in that empty chair now? The window trope, suggesting removal and apartness, is a common one, but is given fresh energy here: a tension is set up between the solidity of the window and the fragility of the Nepal paper hung delicately on the wall. For all their melancholic language there is little sense of the uncanny in Smith’s works. That’s not a criticism, it’s just that they lack the weirdness of an ‘other world’.
Like Armen Eloyan, Rose Wylie is an artist who usually works on a larger scale. Here her works on paper are, in contrast to all the other works in the show, hung in a seemingly random group, as if to emphasize her separateness. Her painting seems untaught, ‘outsider’ art, and indeed until very recently she was on the outside of the art world. That changed when she was selected for the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC’s recent exhibition Women to Watch featuring “underrepresented and/or emerging women artists”. She’s now 76, so recognition has been a long time coming. She’s not untaught though; she had a conventional art education from which she seems to want to escape. Her inspirations are wide–ranging, from TV and films to dreams. The picture of her cleaner on her knees, scrubbing-brush in hand, but with a cream cracker instead of a head made me laugh. That’s what happens to people in dreams.
When I saw Blue Velvet for the first time I came out of the cinema feeling unsettled, disconcerted, or, as my niece would say, ‘creeped out’. I didn’t come out of In Dreams feeling like that but then not all dreams are like David Lynch’s.