Rob Blake, Duncan Passmore and Damien Sayer
Presenting the work of three very different artists, although not curated, this exhibition unites the media of painting, sculpture and photography. If we were to look for commonalities, these artists could broadly be said to render unique experience of time and the forms that it can take, be it through the body, painterly gesture, or the relationships that we hold at any one moment.
A gentle hissing is audible within the gallery, quietly emanating from British artist Rob Blake’s sculpture just anyone (2017). Utilising industrial materials such as steel, brick and copper piping, water regularly drips onto a scolding-hot surface, rapidly bubbling, evaporating and leaving behind a pale white residue. Seemingly mechanical or functional, your eye travels from its coiled plug towards the water’s source at the ceiling, and yet this pipe actually connects to nothing – an upright autonomous form.
Nearby, the work Early depictions of modern man (2017) comprises a similarly sterile frame. Tentatively mounted within is a delicate glass panel upon which an abstract composition of powdery substances has been systematically layered; the mustiness of charcoal combines with the chalkiness of calcium, iron oxide’s deep brown merging with rust’s orange tinge. These elements make up the ingredients found within all human beings, completed by the adjacent water cycle that continually leaks and dissolves.
Concerned with power structures and systems, and the potential for empathy within contemporary society, Blake’s sculptures are outwardly cold, mechanical and austere, and yet they reproduce the elemental proponents that make us human; machine and flesh are not so disparate, with more in common than first meets the eye. Could we ever empathise with these taciturn objects? As with our own bodily processes, the mechanized forms have self-driven systems that are both fragile and fallible, that could tumble, crack or dissolve at any minute.
While the paintings of Scottish artist Duncan Passmore are ostensibly abstract, they too suggest the figure – a curve of pale apricot signifying a supple cheek, or an almond-shaped patch of white winking at you. Often using colour palettes that are jarring or uncomfortable, his mid-scale canvases such a loca no go (2016-17) see slurpy swathes of rosy, fleshy pink rubbing up against textured areas of bruised purple, contrasting with roughly applied blotches of acrid limey yellow. Interested in the push and pull of applying paint to canvas, continually shifting, rotating and manipulating his compositions, thick globules are applied with a spatula, overlaid with spray paint and wiped away with a finger. The artist interrupts, layers, buffers and blocks his gestures: describing his process as one of ‘ambivalence’, he works until these expressions feel balanced and resolved.
Mixing his paint with a combination of wheat paste & pigment, an impasto texture impersonates that of traditional oil paint. Often working on large-scale murals, Passmore mops up the messy spillage of this process with loose rags and bin bags. It is from this method that his sculptural installation Pseudo Impasto (2017) derives, bin liners reminiscent of body bags swaying with their own push-and-pull movement. Oscillating as the result of magnets that make them quiver within a fixed field, these sculptures too are ambivalent; never fixed, these are throwaway paintings that continually move in time and space, undermining the reverence traditionally ascribed to oil painting.
The photographs of French artist Damien Sayer derive from performative, time-based acts undertaken by friends. Reflect on everyday life, they depict the suburban haunts of Achères. While interested in interpreting the cold realism of ordinary people and their daily activities, his images are often imbued with moments of tragi-comedy – simultaneously humorous and sad. For example, the series CHEF’S DICK (2017) depicts a man holding various kitchen objects – a cucumber and single cherry tomato; a limp lettuce leaf; a cooker’s metal grill – in place of his penis. They should be bawdy, but his gaze suggests a vulnerability or deep-rooted sorrow. Working in a steel-clad kitchen, Sayer regularly photographed the head chef who assumed these various phallic poses, one-minute sculptures reminiscent of the likes of Erwin Wurm undermining the expected power structure through this subversive exchange.
Interested in the symbolic pragmatism of using poor materials, Sayer’s cardboard surfaces have ragged, unkempt edges. The aimlessness of time as spent in suburban territories is recalled in the work PERFORMANCE OF DOING NOTHING (2017). A man pointlessly wanders the grey-day streets, vacuously scrawling upon the walls with agency-less graffiti before being struck down and combusted by lightning. Delicately rendered in aquarelle, the artist layers this watery material upon transparencies so that it rests upon the surface of the photographs; nothing is integrated, everything remains stilted, stiff and separate, a narrative that could we wiped away and replaced with another. Time assumes its own unique form – evading the buzzing streets that surround us in Berlin and pulling us into the subdued French suburbs, where a very different reality takes shape.
Text by Louisa Elderton