The exhibition will feature four artists from different generations and at different points in their careers: Alvaro Barrington, Mandy El-Sayegh, Rachel Jones and Dona Nelson.
The individual artists’ presentations on display throughout the gallery will demonstrate the wide-ranging possibilities of painting today, while exploring themes such as the formation of identity, the communication of meaning and the subjectivity of interpretation, as well as the boundaries between personal expression and collective experience.
A Focus on Painting explores the artists’ unique approaches to painting – whether through an innovative approach to modes of display, the canvas as a binding structure, the incorporation of seemingly disparate elements into the picture plane, painting as a site of containment or an index of process and gesture, or the interplay between abstraction and figuration.
Alvaro Barrington (b. 1983, Caracas, Venezuela) has risen to international acclaim in recent years with his multidimensional practice ranging from solo presentations of his work to collaborative street parties, concerts and floats for Notting Hill Carnival. He is currently teaching at Slade School of Fine Art in London and will have a solo exhibition at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris in Spring 2021.
Informed by an ongoing commitment to a wide range of practices – including the visual arts, music, fashion, education, reading and philanthropy – Barrington will present two new paintings conceived specifically for this exhibition.
Experimenting with and adjusting to the ‘logic’ found within other artists’ work in relation to his own, Barrington’s new paintings consider different approaches to abstraction through simplified palettes, the application of the grid and the expressive potential of bold brushstrokes. Painted on torn sheets of burlap and presented in custom-made wooden frames, the works further reference the artist's personal and cultural ties to the Caribbean and its tradition of cacao production, where coffee beans are packed in burlap bags.
London-based Mandy El-Sayegh (b. 1985, Selangor, Malaysia) had her first institutional solo show, the specially commissioned installation Cite Your Sources, at London’s Chisenhale Gallery last year. She was shortlisted for the biannual Max Mara Art Prize for Women in collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery, London in 2017.
The artist will present an immersive installation featuring monumental paintings and assemblage, transforming the gallery's interior space through direct interventions to the walls and floor. Born in Malaysia to Chinese and Palestinian parents, El-Sayegh’s practice explores the constant flux of meaning, constructed through the production and circulation of images or texts and their subjective interpretation, with a focus on trauma and the body.
Combining found fragments with imagery and text, including pages from the Financial Times and hand-painted gestures or calligraphy borrowed from her father’s artistic practice, El-Sayegh creates fleshy, visceral works that reconfigure seemingly abstract elements into a unified whole. In her Net-grid paintings, the artist overlays silkscreen prints combining personal memorabilia, found objects and linguistic elements with hand-painted grids to consider the potential proliferation of materials and information, as well as the structures that contain them.
Plastering newspapers across the gallery walls and floor, bound between layers of latex, El-Sayegh highlights the processes through which meanings become internalised and fragmented: removed from their original contexts, the texts are reduced to a series of signifiers, taking on new narrative functions beyond their primary intent.
Rachel Jones (b. 1991, London, UK) completed her Masters Degree at the Royal Academy of Arts last year and was awarded the André Dunoyer de Segonzac Hon RA Prize before exhibiting alongside Gillian Ayres and Nao Matsunaga at the New Art Centre, Salisbury (September – November 2019). Jones has held residencies at both The Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas in 2019 and the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art, Bermuda in 2016.
Jones will present a series of new paintings that explore the complexities of society’s readings of the black body – how it is understood, how it is culturally reproduced, and the potential role of these representations in dismantling existing power structures. Jones's presentation will include a number of large-scale hanging pieces alongside smaller works on unstretched canvas and paper pinned to the wall.
Jones is interested in creating images that explore the Black Interior, the depth of her own interiority, and how as a black woman, it consists of an autonomous, imaginary, and multiplicitous experience. Jones applies a form of critical interpretation to the language of painting in her work, reconsidering both traditional and contemporary approaches to colour and form. In response to these approaches, she explores self-expression as a bodily, visual and visceral experience. Jones is interested in eliminating a literal depiction of self, instead focusing on a sense of self in relation to the sovereignty of her inner life and the expression of this through a kaleidoscopic palette and boldness of form.
Dona Nelson (b. 1947, Grand Island, Nebraska, USA) has an oeuvre spanning fifty years that has been exhibited internationally. Incorporating a variety of approaches to both image and material, Nelson is most recognisable for her two-sided stain paintings, in which the artist works on both sides of a stretched canvas. These characteristic paintings constitute a significant element of Nelson’s ongoing practice and a selection of these large-scale works will be presented in the upcoming exhibition.
Approaching the canvas as both a conduit and a ground, Nelson begins her two-sided paintings by throwing a net of gel-soaked cheesecloth onto the canvas, which dries to form linear grooves that direct the flow of the liquid acrylic that she pours on, before repeating the process and then removing or adding elements in turn. The direct pour of diluted acrylic paint acquires a new and unexpected appearance as it soaks through the canvas to the other side. As a result, one side of the painting often has a denser materiality, while the other takes on an illusionistic and imagistic quality. Painting ‘en plein air’, Nelson employs buckets of paint and tools such as spatulas or high pressure hoses to work on her canvases. Ripped, layered and interwoven with painted string, the finished paintings bear testament to their production, retaining traces of the artist's actions.
While referred to as having a ‘front’ (recto) and a ‘back’ (verso), Nelson works on both sides of the canvas repeatedly and in tandem, removing the priority traditionally given to the canvas's ‘front’. The finished works are often exhibited on floor-based steel or wooden constructions instead of hanging flat against the wall, which invites a novel way of viewing by encouraging visitors to walk around the paintings in order to experience them in full.