Friday, 6 January 2012

The Mystery Of Appearance, Haunch Of Venison

The Haunch Of Venison's exhibition The Mystery Of Appearance is an intriguing show across the gallery's four rooms, but equally an excellent opportunity to see the 103 Bond St. space, complete with the top-floor gallery skylight. It's a super place to exhibit during daylight.

The great coup of the show is that the gallery have managed to bring a number of the works on show out of private collections. The selection is impressive, not least as it does in fact all fit within the thematic parameters of  the exhibition's intent: to compare the works between one another, the tradition and other means of representation.

The opening room is a fine selection of largely nude protraits. Though a rarely seen Euan Uglow nude and a fine nude (with the same compositional marks as Uglow) by William Coldstream demand attention the best work is one of the two distinct works by Lucien Freud. Girl On A Turkish Sofa (1966) is a beautifully tended, almost miniature reclining nude with brushstrokes that look as if the paint has been licked into place. I was also struck, if not stirred by a pair of studies by Richard Hamilton (left), whose multiple-stencilled outlines had the same effect as John Stezaker's split-eyeline photo montages (right) from his Whitechapel Exhibition last year.

The second room is meant to be representative of the artists' debt to older works and schools and contains the only Bacon of the exhibition, inevitably a Screaming Pope canvas. David Hockney's fine draughtsmanship and surreal wit are in evidence but again I was drawn to the Uglow Massacre Of The Innocents, presumably after Rubens' masterpiece, though the composition is different. Rendered in Uglow's characteristic style - a wide but filtered palette and with evidence of his composition of the painting part of the finished patina - the picture actually looks like a homage study, a step-by-step remake designed to throw new light on the brilliance of its forbear.

By the third room, I could no longer ignore the elephant in the gallery (if you like), Leon Kossoff. The heavy-impasto canvases of the artist always puts me off, as if a Sartrean viscosity is reaching out to pull one into the scene. It's grubby. But perhaps that physicality, that extra dimension to the painting is what constitutes the Mystery of Appearance for Kossoff. One looks at the reproduction of Rembrandt's Bathing Woman and, after the figurative recognition, there is a recoil against the claustrophobia of the paint. However the swirl, the dynamism of the impasto is undeniable. The undulating reflection of the light on the water seems to move up and around the whole picture. The water becomes the subject of the picture as much as the woman. Additionally, albeit in a sci-fi twist, there is a also some sense of the looking back in time, both to the period of Rembrandt but also to the scene that he has rendered. The picture doesn't seem quite fixed.

Fixed is the question raised in the final room. Photographic reproductions come from Hamilton (a beach scene that looks like an over-blown press photo) and Michael Andrews' East Anglian society scene in which it looks as if a photograph has been overpainted - only for close inspection to reveal that the photo-realism is itself painted. A Bacon quote stands, vigilant, on the wall:
... one knows that by some accidental brushmarks suddenly appearance comes in with a vividness that no accepted way of doing it would have brought about.

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