Houldsworth Gallery is delighted to have taken on representation of Justin Mortimer, winner of East International 2004 at Norwich Art Gallery, selected by Neo Rauch and Gerd Harry Lybke, and to be presenting his first solo exhibition of paintings in the UK for seven years.
Mortimer's latest works are shocking, in a time when shock in art is almost impossible. It is not the floating limbs, out of place half figures, nor the flickering corpses which are shocking in Mortimer's towering canvases, but the very fact that the paintings appear to have arrested themselves. The universal principle of Mortimer's current project seems to be that the painting only becomes complete, not when it reaches harmony, neither when some conceptual or other message is expressed, nor when satisfaction creeps in, but when the painting surprises the artist himself.
This moment of rupture can take any form. Sometimes the form is a scraped away hand, an area of blank canvas, a massive monolithic application of paint, or a cut away figure. The result is always one of discord, when the narrative or legibility of the painting is silenced and another much more disturbing air enters the fray. The use of guerrilla tactics undoubtedly results in a kind of violence, but that is not to say that the paintings do not still posses delicacy or even melancholic contemplation. The violence is towards the act of finality and totality itself, as connected to the illusion of the skilled craftsperson. The violence is then an act of self-effacement and a shift from the precision of cultivated civilisation towards freewheeling chaotic freefall.
Place has become increasingly prominent in Mortimer's most recent pieces. These are specific places which Mortimer has visited and then photographed, places which you sense have been selected for their poignant beauty as associated with their systematic neglect ' bunkers long since forgotten in times of peace, beaches and landscapes long since surpassed by sunnier climates and bluer skies. The specificity of place is then translated through its pared down representation into universal symbols of forgotten and repressed thought.
The evolution of Mortimer's work since winning the BP Portrait Award in 2001, and East International in 2004 tells a difference story. The haunting, but somewhat whimsical combination of figure and landscape in the winning entry for East has mutated into something much sharper and textured through the shear sweat and blood of Mortimer's practice. Mortimer has works in collections of National Portrait Gallery, Royal Society for the Arts, Royal Collection, Yoshitomo Nara, and Bank of America to name a few.