Sesame is proud to present “Icon Resistance”, an exhibition of new paintings by the Latvian artist Henrijs Preiss.
Taking medieval and Byzantine religious icons as his starting point, Henrijs Preiss submerges the sacred icon into the grit and alienation of the 21st century. Forced to adapt to contemporary conditions, Preiss’ icons are rough, raw, and yet at the same time intricate and resplendent – spiritual objects for the post-religious era.
The icon has always been a precious thing, the worldly embodiment of higher spiritual values. But where once it was revered and removed, Henrijs Preiss pits the icon against the grim realities of post-industrial consumer society. Faded functionalist architecture; invisible virtual realities; subliminal consumer branding – all leave their mark on the 21st century icon.
The process involves a fundamental reconfiguration of the basic elements of the icon as a painting. Trained as a stage designer in the Academy system in Latvia, Preiss knows perfectly well how to set the scene for this drama. Using geometric mechanisms, subtle sleights of hand in compositional balance, and colour complexes honed for maximum visceral and spatial effect, he purges the icon of its historical baggage and forces its basic essence – its spiritual power – to take on a new, abstract shape to make itself heard amongst the contemporary clamour.
The resulting works are reminiscent of Peter Halley’s circuit boards, embedded with Da Vinci-esque schemata and then physically eroded as if by the endless stream of city life. Time-worn and corroded, they feel like objects lost in and then rescued from the morass of urban activity. Through it all, though, Preiss’ reconstituted icons emerge triumphant, maintaining their integrity and insisting on the values that the icon historically represented – adapted to contemporary conditions, but vital and important as ever.
Henrijs Preiss trained at the Art Academy of Latvia as a painter and scenographer from 1992 until 1998, and completed his Masters at Central St Martins in 2001. Since then he has been based in London and has exhibited in London, New York, Berlin and Riga. “Icon Resistance” will be his second solo exhibition at Sesame.