Most days I walk along the Kings Road, and pass The Saatchi Gallery, at Duke of Yorks Square by Sloane Square tube station. Last Thursday I glanced over at the imposing Victorian building and instead of thinking, I would love to have a look around but must walk past, I decided it was going to be the day I went in and looked around.
The Saatchi Gallery is great. The exhibitions are free, displaying an ever-changing range of different artists’ work, and the work is displayed in plain, white, spacious rooms. The art is left to speak for itself.
The Gallery aims to exhibit contemporary art by previously little-known, unseen artists, and every time I have wandered around this striking space, I discover new and unexpected artists.
‘The Painters’ Painters’ Exhibition runs until the 28th February 2017. It highlights the work of nine artists, all of whom explore the presentation of, and interactions between, human bodies. The following paragraphs focus on one piece of work by five
of the artists whose work struck me as most the interesting and expressive.
Martin Maloney, born in London, 1961, painted an outdoor scene representing the people Maloney has seen whist walking on the street, each one with an imagined personality and history completely unique to them. All his pieces at the Saatchi have a similar theme. The pieces fill the viewer with feelings of familiarity and put a smile of recognition on my face; the London divas with their accessories: sunglasses, miniature dogs and fur coats, flipping casually through the Daily Mail as they wait for public transport or a similarly clad friend to appear. In his oil on canvas pieces Moloney depicts a wide range of different situations and people; from a ’Sex Club’ comprising M&S and S&M participants, as well as another with Cowboys, to a painting entitled ‘Equal Opportunity’ depicting a group of various ages, ethnicities and genders, and scenes of everyday London life. Many of the brightly coloured pieces, and seemingly innocent scenes invoke deeper meaning in the viewer when dwelled upon. For example, the piece I have chosen to focus upon, when meditated upon, changed my perception of the individuals depicted from neutral observation, to resentment at what I saw to be an arrogant, entitled outlook on life. Moloney’s pieces seem to encourage the viewer to project their own prejudices and views onto his work, giving a wealth of connotations to the wealth of colour.
Ryan Mosley, born in 1980, Chesterfield, in contrast to the wash of colours seen in Moloney’s work, uses muted tones such as browns, dark greens, and nudes in his carnivalesque creations. At first glance, many of his pieces seem to be a collage of limbs and legs. However, when given the time to be properly observed, reveal themselves to be part of a surreal world filled with invented characters and rituals that are simultaneously archaic and futuristic. These pieces cause the viewer to ponder their own placement in a crowd of people, and in the wider world of human interaction. The oil on linen piece that most struck me was ‘Empress Butterfly’ which began as a partner painting to another painting ‘Emperor Butterfly’ also displayed at the Saatchi, which evolved into an exploration of transvesticism and the equality of men’s and women’s bodies – we are all of the same flesh and form.
David Salle, born in Oklahoma, 1952, was for me the most aesthetically pleasing and interesting artist to observe, due to my innate love of collage and clean lines, both of which I got from my favorite piece ‘Mingus in Mexico’. I spent the majority of my gallery visit in his room inspecting the minute details Salle had incorporated into his pieces. His art was for me, a collage of thoughts, feelings, figures and objects, coming together to represent the challenge of defining yourself, your image and what you represent in this modern world of brands and ever-changing fashions. Details such as unfinished sketches and empty speech bubbles only added to the sense of unfinished thoughts, which we can all probably identify with.
Ansel Krut, born in Cape Town, South Africa, 1959, displayed a wide array of paintings depicting various objects and abstract images, that seemed to represent people and the human form in interesting and imaginative manners. One of the smallest, and for me most striking pieces in his display, was ‘Little Fry-Up’ which displayed what seemed to be a breakfast meal, including most noticeably eggs and bacon. However, the detail of red and blue lines coming from the egg yokes gave the painting the look of a tired human face, perhaps the face many wake up having, and display whilst eating their breakfast. For me this piece made me think of the idea of getting through each day, eating for the energy it provides, as opposed to eating for the enjoyment of the meal. This is another piece that left the interpretation largely to the viewer and allowed the viewer to project his or her own associations with breakfast onto the piece.
Bjarne Melgaard, born in Sydney, Australia, 1967, displayed paintings which could come across as the works of a toddler given free reign with a colourful artist’s palette. The paintings depicted stick like, simplistic images of people, a dog and words, such as ‘Daddy’ and ‘Cock’, splayed across many of them. The most striking piece for me was the untitled piece depicting two figures both labelled ‘Daddy’, one of which was clear, the other covered in paint strokes as if the artist intended to besmirch the image. Perhaps I was desperate to find a deeper meaning in the simplistic jumble of colours and lines I saw before me, but from my perspective it seemed this painting showed a changed perception of the image of ’Daddy’, perhaps representing an anger or frustration against him. It is worth noting that this display was my least favourite, due to my dislike in art I feel I could have created myself, and in my eyes, lacking the artistic skill and detail I so admire in the works I enjoy. The beauty is in the detail, and I found very few details in these pieces.
The exhibition highlights the sudden recent boom in painted art, a traditional media that seems to have been in decline over the past few years. Many of the works resemble street art, with a vibrant, youthful feel. However I couldn’t help but contrast this all male line up of artists with The Saatchi Gallery’s recent show of all-female artists, ‘Champagne Life’, being sold on gender. ‘Painters’ Painters’ is presented as a showcase of cutting-edge contemporary painting, not as a gendered show. Are there really no females working in this format?
The show received a mixed reception from mainstream art critics. Ben Luke from the Evening Standard gave it 2/5 stars, concluding that “This show’s case for painting as an inspiring medium doesn’t quite land.” Mark Hudson from The Telegraph exclaimed “The future of art? You must be joking.” Many agreed that Ryan Mosley’s room was the highlight of the exhibition. Katie McCabe from TimeOut described his work as lying “somewhere between modern folk art and Hogarthian debauchery.”
It is one of those contemporary art exhibitions where there will be at least one piece you like, probably from an artist that you’ve never heard of before. And plenty of rooms that simply don’t inspire or impress. But it’s free, it’s in a wonderful building in a beautiful area of town, and so there are plenty of worse ways to wile away an hour or so.
At the very least it will make you think.