Stef Will

Stef Will

• 19 April 2022

London gallery speed-dating

As part of my MA Fine Art course, we recently went on a tour of London West End galleries – you may call it an art marathon: Ten galleries in one day!

It was a bit like speed dating. Of course, you can’t possibly get acquainted intimately with an artist’s work in such a short amount of time. However, it was really valuable for seeing, in person, what is currently on show in London – an impression of what’s considered ‘worthy’ right now (with the limitation that it was a Monday, so our choice of galleries was naturally limited…).

You may say, we could have done that online, but I dare to disagree. Seeing work in person is hugely important to me, as seeing an image of the work is simply not the same (not least because of the missing energy, yes, I am serious!). And don’t get me started on so-called ‘virtual viewing rooms’ (aka websites…). Anyway, our day started at Simon Lee’s with new paintings by Garth Weiser, fusing abstraction and figuration. Not my favourite of the day, I must admit, but interesting to see his additive and subtractive multi-layering, leading to ‘scarred’, sculptural surfaces.

Next up was a (non-contemporary) group exhibition at Gazelli Art House, which was a real treat. The work that stood out for me downstairs was ‘Cool Series No 48, Striated Red’ (1961) by abstract expressionist Perle Fine (see left). Its “visual rhythm of geometric form and colour” is simply striking – would love to live with this work at home! The first thing you see when coming upstairs is the monumental work ‘Untitled’ by Recycle Group. And while the scale and innovative medium is no doubt impressive, it was two smaller and much quieter works that caught my eye: ‘Merger’ (1965), a collage and ink drawing by British pop artist Derek Boshier, and ‘Prog 73’ (1971), an ink plotter drawing by German artist Manfred Mohr. Mohr was an innovator in systems art and also computer-generated art. He worked for example with created algorithms that he then printed on flatbed plotters (this was before laser printers…).

After that, we visited Sunneva Ása Weisshappel’s solo show at R+V in Dover Street. The London based Icelandic artist says she “interrogates what it means to be human in a material and materialistic world”. I loved her show, in particular her works ‘Touch’ (2022) and ‘Hidden Tendency’ (2021), as well as the performance video playing behind the reception desk (not sure whether that has a name?) that gave some insights into her way of working. Her somewhat abject, multi-layered, mixed media canvases (some encompass hair and teeth; in others she appears to work with blood…) seem laden with hidden symbolic meaning and one could have easily spent the whole day there.

Via a testosterone-fuelled line up at Waddington Custot’s (‘Drive. North America and the Open Road’), and the Marlborough, where we saw some of Louise Bourgeois’ drawings and printworks, alongside works by Paula Rego, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, and Euan Uglow, we went to see Rachel Rose at Pilar Corrias’ in Savile Row.

The latter was the exhibition that surprised me most that day. I wasn’t familiar with Rachel’s work at all, and on entering the gallery, I felt an immediate aversion – it seemed dark and outdated on first impression (an impression reinforced by her choice of overbearing black frames). However, after actually looking at the work, I quickly fell in love with it, as it is full of surprises and challenges hard-coded likes and dislikes.

Her works appropriate rural landscape paintings by 18th-century painters such as Gainsborough, Palmer and Constable, which she modifies with pigments and metallic dust (often adding an uncanny moon), thus transforming the old masters into unexpected surrealistic, mystical scenes. She says that her work “explores how our changing relationship to landscape has shaped story-telling and belief systems” and questions “what it is that makes us human and the ways we seek to alter and escape that designation”.

This was of course just a very small selection of the galleries we visited and works we saw, but I thought I’d give you a selected, highly subjective impressions of my day…