John Hurrell – 21 June, 2012
There is an argument that recycling the past like this is truly avant-garde, but I don't buy it. I don't visit contemporary art galleries to see recreations of art styles my great-grandparents might have seen in a salon. I go to experience something I don't normally come across. Something of our time that takes me by surprise, a way of thinking, a notion or a sensuality that gets me curious, mentally and bodily engaged.
Pointing at Trees
31 May - 30 June 2012
In this large series of paintings of flowers in vases, a show seemingly influenced by fin de siècle artists - especially tonally constrained Nabis like Felix Vallotton or Edouard Vuillard - Layla Rudneva-Mackay moves on from her earlier photographic portraits of faces covered with coloured make-up to recreate the type of Parisian post-impressionist style one might normally find in the Museé d’Orsay. Brusherly and decorative, they look odd on white modernist walls. They almost seem to be thumbing their noses at the dominant ‘Starkwhite’ purity - this clearly unintended - so cut off from a nineteenth century red-oxide walled, salon hang.
Unabashedly retro, the fifteen beautifully crafted paintings are in the two downstairs galleries, while upstairs we see eight photographs of pots, leaning boards or stacks of simple objects positioned on painted tables or in front of thinly painted walls.
There is an argument that recycling the past like this is truly avant-garde, but I don’t buy it. I don’t visit contemporary art galleries to see recreations of art styles my great-grandparents might have seen in a salon. I go to experience something I don’t normally come across. Something of our time that takes me by surprise, a way of thinking, a notion or a sensuality that gets me curious, mentally and bodily engaged. I like the new and the way it locks into passing time and my own fragile, passing, fleeting existence. I like the idea of the new - even if its manifested particulars flummox or bore me. I find change in art refreshing because I see an art life without it as no life at all.
Therefore with these paintings, I feel drawn to their charm (they are nicely put together) but mentally resist their fusty conservatism. However the C-type photographs upstairs are different. While not themselves earth shatteringly innovative (you might argue they are merely variations of the paintings) they at least can be linked to mid-twentieth century technology like the Polaroid camera. I take them more seriously, for their visual appeal rests on mechanical processes, a lack of definition in their parts, a blurriness that seems to account for the moving figure poised in space and looking across it. They might also allude to memory - the fuzziness of straining recall.
They have a gentle wit the paintings lack - by virtue of the references to painted surfaces contained within - and that softness is Richterlike. Their C-type print surface is different from the paintings with its stable sheen and avoidance of tactile relief.
Rudneva-Mackay presents an interesting show because she draws a line in the sand. I’m not stepping across and I don’t think her move is courageous - but it is good to ponder over. Meat for conversation. Mental mastication.
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