A soaring population. Spiralling rents. Old social structures falling apart... Early Modern Europe from the 1500s onwards certainly had its parallels with our own times. So it comes as no surprise that contemporary artists should look to the early Modern era in search of influences to interpret our own. Early Modern Matters presents this tendency through the work of five European artists: Claire Partington, Olivia Kemp, Vasilis Avramidis, Daniel Hosego, & El Gato Chimney.
Claire Partington’s recent ceramic figures deal with identity and power, and how status has historically been projected through symbols and codes. While much of her work looks at feminine power, her work in this show, ‘Alpha’, looks at male presence through the image of a courtier – a falconer – with the interchangeable head of a wolf, suggesting how an individual can be both a submissive servant and yet also a tyrant to those lower in the order. The faithful hunting dog and the delicately figured bird only compound this complex of submission and service: the human being is a social beast, and a climbing one at that. Claire recently received the first place award from the Virginia A. Groot Foundation and has a large commission opening at the Seattle Art Museum in October 2018.
Olivia Kemp’s monumental drawings are exercises in prolonged concentration. With neither beginning nor end, they constitute a stream of consciousness of memories sprawling across the paper. ‘Ascending the High Pass’ is Olivia’s latest work following a residency in Bavaria. It takes the motif of the early Modern mountain castle, stone-built symbols of social structure, and threads them together in an Escher-like maze devoid of any logic or hierarchy. Instead, these nodes of power become conduits for imaginative association, and stack one on top of the other in a contemporary horror vacui. Olivia Kemp will also be exhibiting in ‘Prince and Patron’ at Buckingham Palace in September at the request of Prince Charles.
Vasilis Avramidis paints in the tradition of the memento mori but with grand and epic ambitions. His paintings have a sense of the inexorable passage of time, of faded civilisations, and of archaic Gods stifled beneath the undergrowth that are slowly rousing into action. Vasilis alludes to Modernist architecture and sixteenth century Golden Age paintings as if they were just momentary manifestations of this timeless force. Such a perspective suggests the impermanence of all human endeavour, whilst also hinting that it is more than mere vanity. With his compositions Vasilis also suggest a thread of creative continuity that endures across the centuries.
Daniel Hosego’s ink drawings use Old Masters works as a template, into which he embeds centuries of art historical motifs in an academic pot-pourri. These are then scaled up into screenprints on Perspex like twentieth century pop-art. Through his work Daniel looks to probe the moral power that art used to exercise, and examines how this ambition is forced to adapt to a secular age. In this exhibition is one of Daniel’s most ambitious drawings to date, a version of Hokusai’s Great Wave embellished with Renaissance chariots on a sea of plastic, a place where Poseidon himself is inundated by bottles.
El Gato Chimney is an Italian painter whose watercolours are mystical and cryptic. He presents studies of animals in the late medieval and Renaissance tradition, as if they were potent symbols in a code whose key for interpretation has been lost. His ram ascending a staircase pinned with papers, and his birds fluttering through threads and graphic signs, all hint at a forgotten system of meaning that leaves us only uncertainty about the nature of his visual puzzles. It is this absence of authority lends El Gato’s works his contemporary sensibility; a historicism hinting at a sense of higher order, together with a recognition that it is already lost, like Paradise past.