‘Mendes & Co. (Deceased)’ presents a collection of new artist obituary paintings by the London-based artist Hugh Mendes, exhibited alongside artworks created by his subjects: Bram Bogart, Andy Warhol, Elisabeth Frink, Alan Davie, Albert Irvin, Auguste Rodin, and Mario Schifano. The exhibition is presented in collaboration with Blond Contemporary and Charlie Smith London.
Hugh Mendes is an artist renowned for his distinctive obituary paintings. They present portraits of famous figures as if they were press clippings from the obituary pages of The Guardian, realistically executed in the manner of still life or trompe l’oeil paintings from the 17th century. The focus on famous figures and the tradition of the portrait speak of our celebrity-focused culture, whilst imitation of the press clipping references the repetitive media imagery through which fame and celebrity are constructed and disseminated. The macabre undercurrents of the obituary also tie into the historical tradition of the memento mori, whereby his paintings become reminders of the transience of life. Through his unique approach Hugh finds something timeless and transcendental in the rapid succession of images that bombard our everyday lives.
The presentation of Hugh’s paintings alongside original works by the subjects of his obituaries amplifies the many conceptual threads in his practice. Thematically, Elisabeth Frink’s ‘Soldier’s Head’ and Rodin’s ‘Martyr’ extend the intimations of mortality in the memento mori tradition. Bram Bogart’s work highlights the materiality of Hugh’s paintings, that despite their figurative content they are nonetheless paint manipulated on a surface. This painterliness finds further echoes in the expressive works of Albert Irvin and the intuitive compositions of Alan Davie. The work of Mario Schifano emphasises the conceit of the figurative painting, and of how nothing should be taken on face value even in a repetitively and serially reproduced culture. This is continued in the work of Andy Warhol, which also highlights the cultural fascination with fame that underpins both the portrait and the obituary.
In his source imagery Hugh further twists the conceptual knots in his practice. Some paintings work with the kind of photographic portraits traditionally found in news media, such as that of Albert Irvin. Others are of self portraits, as in the case of Alan Davie, Elisabeth Frink and Andy Warhol. But in others the artist is represented not by their image but by their art, as in the case of Mario Schifano, who is represented by an image of his portrait of Picasso. Through subtleties such as these and juxtaposition with original pieces, the exhibition draws out the questions that underpin Hugh’s practice. Of the relationship between an artist, their works, and their imagery. Of where artistic legacy lies: in the intertextual media fabric of fame, or in the talismanic object that is the artwork. Of the role of the artwork as a memento mori that outlasts and memorialises its maker. And the importance of the mortal hand in its creation, even in a world of infinitely reproduced likenesses.