In 1933, the Japanese novelist Jun’ichiro Tanizaki wrote the seminal essay on Japanese aesthetics ‘In Praise of Shadows’, outlining some of the key tenets of the country’s particular way of perceiving light and darkness. Although specific to Japan, today Tanizaki’s essay more widely speaks to an aesthetic sensibility that has spread to the West as well: an appreciation for the patina given by age, for humble materials, for muted hues, and for sombre, yet poignant compositions.
This exhibition looks at the work of three international artists who “find beauty not in the thing itself but in the pattern of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates” (Tanizaki).
Janis Avotins, Rebecca Salter, and Giuseppe Uncini hail from different cultures and times, and yet they share a similar sparse and contemplative aesthetic sensibility. Their works dispose of the boisterous pyrotechnics of color and find beauty in the understated, in all things softened by shadow and nuance. In this sense, here the Western tradition of painting encounters a fundamentally Oriental matrix of art-making.
In breaking with many of the medium’s conventions and straddling the border between East and West, Rebecca Salter’s (UK, 1955) works offer the viewer an opportunity to challenge the normative canons of experiencing painting and the way such encounters influence one’s perception of the world. Defying frontality as the main way of experiencing the medium, her works often blur the boundaries between the front and the back of the painting, forcing the viewer to conceive of it as an object , and not as a mere surface. Her highly contemplative works reveal her interest in the line, seen as a calligraphic expression of space and time. In her muted palette and essential marks, Salter demonstrates a great command over the use of empty space, which in her hands becomes a powerful means to spark the beholder’s imagination.
Emerging as through hazy, mist-like fields, Janis Avotins’ (Latvia, 1981) large abstract landscapes represent a turning point from the artist’s former figurative works. His dark and ephemeral compositions, realized through thin layers of imprimatura washes, call to mind the eloquent empty spaces of the Hasegawa school of painting. Preoccupied by collective memory and how history gradually effaces anonymous individuals, in this new body of work Avotins communicates subtly through the gaping absence of the human figure. Alongside the abstract landscapes, the artist will be presenting also paintings from his emblematic figurative series: here Avotins sources little known Soviet-era photographs and reproduces them on faintly painted canvas. His works draw the viewer in a diaphanous and precarious vision of the past. The depicted figures look like shadows, the ghosts of collective memory, and their blurred features remind us of the editing powers of history.
Starting in the late 1960s, Giuseppe Uncini (Italy, 1929-2008) became very interested in the function of shadows and their relationship to objects, a concern which accompanied him in the realization of his works for several years. Uncini’s works are simultaneously objects, sculptures and paintings. Although made of humble, industrial materials – mainly iron and concrete – the artist achieves elegant, rhythmic compositions resulting from the subtle interlacing of the different textures and the spaces between them. Indeed, Uncini’s iconic interplay of light and shadow lead the viewer to shift their attention between the material and immaterial sides of his works. Similarly to Rebecca Salter, a reflection on the physicality of the artwork was central to Uncini’s practice, as he saw materiality as integral to the work’s message. He firmly believed that “those who make art must think thoroughly about the materials they employ, to be able to express real meaning”.