Art & Photography

Hang Up

Port’s resident fountain of artistic knowledge William Kherbek reviews a group exhibition at Josh Lilley Gallery

Star and Cross
Star and Cross, Anissa Mack, 2012 courtesy of the gallery

It’s not easy being a painting. First, you have to deal with artists, which, as everyone knows, is a hopeless business.

Then, there’s having to constantly be “reinvented”. The idea that someone might just go up to a canvas and put some images on it and call that a “painting”, well, it’s about as silly as walking into a cave and calling it your house.

Granted, people do it all the time, but to put things as politely as possible, it’s a bit “ahistorical”.

Painting doesn’t have the luxury of amnesia, and so everyone who considers it their business to use the term “painter” as a self description must sooner or later reckon with the long queue of predecessors that stretches from here to Altamira.

And so pity the painting, in all this rush to define one’s self, the work can be subjected to some seriously egotistical deformations. The good news, however, is that there are people who know what they’re doing.

Fashion may move more slowly in painting than on catwalks, but the movement away from the simple image-on-canvas approach to painting is as welcome as it is natural.

“A very agile and often arresting show”

You can understand why people like paintings on canvas, they’re easy to hang above your sofa, and easy to sell, but it’s hardly an iron law of history that canvas is the natural place for paint. In a very agile and often arresting show titled Hang Up at Josh Lilley Gallery, the boundaries between paintings and other forms of art have a nice instability.

In the work of Liam Everett in particular the line–literally–is most productively obscured. Some will see vague hints of Angela de la Cruz in Everett’s work, and it’s true some of the signifiers of “deconstructed canvas” are there to be seen, but where de la Cruz’s works are something like the equivalent of canvases being subjected to Francis Bacon-esque metamorphoses, Everett’s works have a coolness and sensuality that belies his use of materials. Learning that an artist uses

lemons and sea salt in his paintings shouldn’t make you enjoy a work more, but it does point back to a time when paint wasn’t something that came in flexi-tubes from a big emporium near Brick Lane.

The organicism of his process is very much reflected in the work, his colours are unobtrusive and harmonious, ironically hinting at mass production, but also working to mitigate some of the bombast of the presentation of his works.

The pieces, with titles like The promise of an uncoiled future beyond short term care and understanding risk a sense of disposable flash, but are redeemed by the balance between presentational shouting and structural whispering.

Anissa Mack provides a nice counterpoint to occasionally diaphanous Everett. Where there’s an almost psychedelic quality to Everett at times, Mack’s corresponding musical movement would be something like post-punk, cultivating the brittle and the unresolved. Her piece Receding Rising Sun, a swatch of quilted denim feels like it was ripped from a bad corporate dream of Agnes Martin and is thus brutally current.

Star and Cross is also a decidedly contemporary work, a blaze of spray paint on Aquaresin. The geometric quality of the surface is faintly digital but the roughness and presence of the piece establish a heavy physicality that is about as far from the virtual world as one can get.

Hang Up is at Josh Lilley Gallery until 5th October