Holiday as myth. As fantasy. As a product of memory. As a philosophy of nostalgia. The artists in this show take the traditional holiday excursion seriously, pushing beyond the transient lighthearted pleasures provided by times away into realms of  profound reflection and contemplation, pondering its lingering intellectual and emotional legacies upon the self. Day Bowman’s abstract, dream-laden beach scenes conjure days both sunny and overcast, the geography and structure of the landscape suggested in swirls, swoops, squiggles and blocks of paint, coalesced filters of youthful experience, a reminiscence of play and imagination; Anna Barlow’s fevered confections (constructed of clay, porcelain and glaze), smashed against walls , in various stages of being consumed, gleam with maniacal artificiality, trivial and ephemeral, but enduring and powerful metaphors of appetite and indulgence, of the excitements of relinquishing responsibility and exiling stress; Kitty Stirling’s found object and memorabilia pieces (comprised of bingo cards and stamps) rescue transitory articles from oblivion and transform them into venerated artefacts of time spent and time passed-and her deconstructed deckchair absurdly and exuberantly celebrates the resolve of the British character in the face of hardship; Judith Tucker and Marguerite Horner’s uneasy works address abandonment and emptiness through eerie uninhabited or anonymous images of neighbourhoods and roadways, Tucker’s paintings of holiday homes after dark especially charged in their anxious absences; Amanda Wallwork’s stratigraphic column and colour code for the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site (a 95 mile stretch Dorset and East Devon coastline) reveals not only natural temporal geographic developments of landscape but also the cumulative effects of human movement upon the ground, marks and prints left behind, the (sometimes) tense conversation shared between the two; Sophie Marritt’s video piece is a hazy, blurred bus journey from downtown L.A. to LAX captured on camera phone, revealing a sensibility unmoored, a jumbled trip through alienating concrete underpasses with occasional thrills of incongruent verdant life in sudden, fleeting vision; Jake Clark’s colourful, jocular sculptures are fond interpretations of holiday structures (lighthouses, towers, miniature golf courses, hotel room fixtures), as if a young child, still in thrall to holiday, gathers together available materials to recreate beloved locations and objects; Lydia Blakeley’s febrile, restless collages directly confront systems of manufactured fantasy and their subsequent mental and spiritual fallout, impossible images of aspiration, of not-quite-feasible or attainable reality, triumphs of “false”nostalgia. Quite beyond the practicalities of planning for a holiday, and the physical holiday itself, there exists a nucleus of sensual and fanciful engagement, embedded long-term in the psyche. Getting Away continues through 28 July, then transfers to Quay Arts, Newport, Isle of Wight.




To tread or not to tread? The gallery staff are no doubt endlessly amused as each visitor enters the space to be immediately confronted by Dolly Kershaw’s colourful, serpentine path that winds like a stone carpet off into the room-the dilemma and trepidation etched on each guest’s face of whether to purposefully walk along it, or to respect it as a work of art and politely sidestep it, admiring it from a safe, near remove. Kershaw definitively means for the public to directly interact with her work, the process of continual flux between construction and disassemblement its raison d’etre. This ethos extends to the work of the fellow artists in this show, exploring the tensions between manipulation and chance, the synthetic and the natural, the exertions writ onto the canvas, contradictions held in strange harmonies. Sue Arrowsmith’s fragile, haiku treescapes, like troubled, dark Japanese watercolours (echoed in her use of ground Japanese sumi ink) tumble between the abstract and the representational, shapes struggling for definition against inky backgrounds (their resemblance to film negatives is inherent in her use of 35mm colour slides as study guides from her various walks throughout London), the flow and sprawl of limb a revelation of meticulous detail and serendipity. Defects are brought to the fore in Susan Gunn’s panelled paintings, which incorporate base materials, and willingly yield to natural processes-cracks, folds, eruptions transmute into purpose. They are monochromatic conversational landscapes of fracture and imperfection, assertions of both intent and spontaneity. Philippa Lawrence’s bound bonsai trees, constricted limbs dressed in bright cotton threads, animate nature, enhancing and extending a base drama already present in the source body and shape. The pieces exist in a wave of playful asphyxiation, and operate as a kind of resurrection of sorts, as bonsai trees are effectively dead items-Lawrence’s efforts could be taken as elaborate funereal wardrobes, majesterial offerings to the beauty and stature of the natural world, a form of deification.Michelle Benoit’s gelled wall sculptures (of plexiglass and wood) are emotional palimpsest equivalents of the geologic time scales, a suggestion of the interplay, and overlay, of memory and event and sentiment, an encompass of time, directed by light and colour. Chromal isolations of anger, calm, resignation and joy pulse and flash around the anchor of wood, a panoply of a lived life. The sense of the works breathing is strong overall-and indeed, given movement throughout the gallery, Kershaw’s “live” piece may have already transformed by the time a guest leaves-or, in the act of departure, a guest may contribute personally to its alteration, becoming one with the themes of the show. Whispering Colours continues through 19 July



Credit TimeOut

Trapped in inexorable loops, Ed Atkins’s digital creations (victims?) have succumbed to forces unnamed and unknown, yielding to a pornography of upset and grief and alarm. They are the subjects of a manipulatively cruel and merciless creator, wholly defined (and confined) by their distress-their ability to move out of the moment has been stripped from them, forced to endlessly dramatise their anguish. A soundtrack of moans and screams, sad piano chords, agonises through the gallery.

Credit Notey

A character in Good Wine performs a circular action that is never allowed to be complete-abruptly, a lifetime comes to pass, and the young boy has become a man seemingly beset by disease, crawling to a piano to play out his own dirge. A storm of human figures tumble from the sky, careening into a void, over and over, until end credits roll at ridiculous length, thanking corporate sponsorship and social media platforms (for a production that never quite began). Sandwich ingredients, including baby corpses and human face masks (like cuts of lunch meat) slap onto bread slices, occasionally blasting apart into cross-sectional studies.

Credit Art Basel

Although characters of undeniable artificiality (bodies, yet not bodies) Atkins is able to suggest enough of some real vulnerability and helplessness to provoke in the viewer a pitiable and empathetic response. Just what is Atkins investigating? Perhaps a peculiar modern disorder to serve ourselves up to a digital dimension, cheapen sentiment, indulge our gaudiest behaviour, wilfully surrender to the reduction of algorithm. We allow for a process of consumption, and may have a complicit hand in our own exploitation.A two-tiered rack of costumes from the archives of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, sending out waves of dormant,dusty air, physically dominate the centre of the space, echoing the wardrobe worn by the onscreen avatars. They speak of ghosts and loss, of those who have inhabited them, animated them, and of the yearning towards those who may possess and liven them again, both reproachful and sympathetic towards the poor souls around them, lacking full lives but theatrically hysterical to achieve materiality and fulfilment.Two weeks on, no matter the meaning, I can’t shake off the haunting imagery. Olde Food closed on 2 June, but you can find excerpts from the works online, and I have a few clips at my Instagram account.




Gothic-tinged, etched in tender gloom, the wide-eyed, wary subjects of this series of paintings by Russon seem on the verge of being subsumed by the very canvas, creeping tendrils of paint bleeding onto the figures, the stark backgrounds insidiously working to claim the fragile beings, as if ready to absorb their forms. A precarious, tenuous hold on an inner equilibrium is evoked-a psychological soundness is at risk of defeat. Defenceless, in retreat, the characters appear to be one thought away from abnegation to forces from within and without the frame. Expressions ( bitter, peevishly resigned, exhausted) denote that no illusions are any longer harboured, hope is a con long extinguished. The dolls to which some cling, the pets beside others, lesson books open (all symbols and talismans of security, safety, escape) are no longer strength against the slide towards a greyish oblivion. Storms rage about, water rising-the title of the exhibition, Deluge, is apropos. Russon favours an austere vision-these are bare pieces, no flagrant embellishments or dramatic flourishes. For the people portrayed, there are no aesthetics with which to protect the self against some terrible truth. She works skilfully and with deft craft in multiple sizes (her miniatures are especially effective in isolating disquieting details)-winter has thoroughly settled into the sinew and flesh of these poor souls, mind and body enervated, speaking only of loss and loneliness. And yet the softness and the delicacy of this gaze into the bleak prevents the works from being overburdened with darkness. Both the oddly melancholy eccentrics of Tim Burton and the gentlemanly grotesques of Edward Gorey may drift through the mind as you walk the gallery. Deluge continues through 23 June



Mild-mannered, softly-spoken, the works that constitute Zimbabwe-born Mapondera’s show (Emergency Exit) at this stylish gallery tucked into a corner of London’s charming St. Christopher’s Place, put the lie to the popular notion that artwork needs to churn with heaving aggression and turbulence, announce its significance in full stentorian voice, to properly shake and move an audience. Fragile and resilient in equal measure, the metaphor is directly embedded in his materials-frayed threads, waxed paper, cardboard, plastics stretched and torn, but not quite yielding; it’s as much about absence as presence.Political and social crisis and stress informs his topographical canvasses (inherent in the droops and dangles, the scars, the sheer exhaustion of the textiles), conveying an aggrieved history of failures of state and global culture, each piece an aerial map of devastation and depredation of both village and people (ghostly figures hover and haunt the compositions, occasional tangles of red thread suggest bloodshed). These are painstaking, precise creations, all the more powerful for allowing the viewer to engage with them slowly and at ease, the acute implications accumulating quiet force. The oil paintings included illustrate ways in which native populations negotiate and strategise alternatives to systemic governmental inadequacy (Nemabhero references the explosion of the second-hand clothing trade; Korokoza crystallises the conflict and search for detente between commercial and artisanal gold miners in the country; the crowded bus terminal of ChiVendor Nechihwindi may address the ambitious nascent infrastructure projects now underway in Zimbabwe and the concomitant opportunities for local labourers). One Hundred and Twenty Candidates, a pronounced series of scrawled faces on blocks, thrust out from the frame, gives great attendance to activists who may otherwise face elision or discredit from authorities-Mapondera makes it impossible not to notice them. Each painting, in structure, takes on the definition of landscape-the mountainous piles of clothing; the visual dissonance of the mining factions; the cramped encampment of buses; the pointed, tiered sea of physiognomy-confirming Mapondera’s abiding preoccupation with environment.

Credit Artsy

It’s in the terrain where you will find the truth-spirit and soul are embedded within it, human traces and tributaries limned upon its surface. Emergency Exit continues through 4 July

Credit Artsy



Hermann Nitsch, Das Orgien Mysterien Theatre, Massimo De Carlo

Blood-soaked, viscous, charged with a crazed religious ecstasy  and ardour, this show devoted to iconoclastic Austrian performance provocateur Nitsch is hardly the sort of material you would expect housed within the confines of an elegant Mayfair gallery, transformed now into a hedonist’s den of sombrely gleeful blasphemy and impiety (Nitsch was an instrumental figure in the Viennese Actionism movement in the 1960’s, a practice steeped in the confrontational use of the artists’ own bodies and with interests in the achievement of transgressive states of absolute being-in short, rigourous pioneers in performance art). The ground floor displays a series of altar-like pieces, incorporating smocks, priests’ vestments, religious iconography, canvasses that drip in vivid splashes of red-a queasy combination of blood, fluid and paint-and huge thunderous works of roiling, swirling oils that suggest the miasmatic heart of apocalypse. A shocking, bracing video in the bowels of the building reveals the origins of the works presented upstairs, as conceived in a six-day spiritual and ritualistic experience staged within the grounds of what appears to be a farm (truly awe-inspiring in its organisational scale), incorporating a cast of actors (who, with alarming alacrity and commitment, throw themselves passionately into crucifixion and -simulated?-sexual acts), animal sacrifice, orgiastic bathing in eviscerated innards, drinking of blood-you might think George Romero is somewhere just off camera orchestrating the frenzy. Another room offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in the fever, a psychedelic play of video images and discordant choral sounds collaborating to unmoor a spectator. So close to the beating heart of viscera, thrilling to its vitality and warmth, its immediacy, Nitsch locates the mystic centre of life, the act of being alive. Through 25 May

Richard Serra, Rifts, Gagosian Grosvenor Hill

Sheet-metal titan Serra modulates his material (but not his scale) in this show devoted to these imposing ebon paper canvasses (with a dense, pungent tar-like pigment, quite elemental) troubled by sharp, elongated torn horizons (salvations) of white, as if small, sudden rips into otherwise hidden dimensions. They project a woozy, late-night mentality, pitch-black stretches of road illuminated only by fragile headlight, or lane lines extending into infinity. A hypnotic effect is achieved as you move about the vast space, the black conspiring to consume-body and mind bend towards the warm white crevasses. The black surround-inky, mammoth, uncertain-needs the healing incursions of the white shafts. Through 25 May–april-11-2018

Rachel Howard, Repitition is Truth-Via Dolorosa, Newport Street Gallery

Howard means her series of large-scale abstract works as an allegory of the Stations of the Cross (the first painting inside the exhibition references the horrifying, now iconic, image of Abu Ghraib detainee Ali Shallal al-Qaisi trussed up, Christ-like, victim of torture, the Via Dolorosa element of the show’s title), but they work most profoundly and excitingly as explorations of the painting process itself, each piece a painstaking combination of both intention and chance-mixing and manipulating varnish and pigment, pouring the blend in weeping rivulets down the canvas (using ladders and scaffolding), pushing and prodding the material to layered effect (Howard allowed for a month’s drying time between each application) and at times rotating canvasses 180 degrees to create opposing and conflicting striations. This approach creates great animation and generates tremendous drive in the works-a paintbrush occasionally appears as detail or prop, which explodes into abstraction the nearer a viewer gets. The pieces become about the way the paint has fallen, the stroke of the brush (sometimes intemperate, sometimes benign), the way the gloss has taken hard hold, the tensions and anxieties and strife implicit in the process that created them. Wounds and seams are present-there’s even what appears to be a clean, surgical cut in one work (stigmata, perhaps), out of which a universe of holy black hell slowly leaks, gathering its forces towards eruption. Through 28 May



How does your garden grow?

If you’re the least bit skittish around human hair (especially isolated from its source), you will be made very uneasy indeed at this exhibition liberal in its use of the material-sinuously curled, coiled locks glued to pages, thick bristly explosions from various openings on clay vessels, unseemly, wildly overgrown entanglements that entirely subsume identity and individual and object (this facial elision engenders a vertiginous, disorienting effect in the viewer, the central marker for recognition removed). Hair is celebrated and consecrated, is both artefact and ornamentation. Culturally and socially, hair has always held a ceremonial prestige, linked to position, class, statements of personal style and intent, an accompaniment to wardrobe and fashion. By appropriating everything from royal and commissioned portraiture to Old Masters to engravings to postcards, truly intervening, Bowles at once honours and subverts the past, a dialog that yields both a playful twist and kinky kick to enduring themes. The adornment of hair, its sexual and aesthetic allure, spills forth from and across the surface of her works, volatile and charged.Structured as a three-act narrative, you move from the domestic (family portraits in which hair, like a manifestation of blood, courses from one member to the next; decorative vases sprouting surging tufts from every shaft, upon close inspection built upon a constructed chaos of various limbs and body parts; and a television set from which a humming, Lynch-like figure onanistically dreams of coiffures) to a lo-if, but highly impressive, reproduction of a stately home, produced with mere plywood, a few wonderfully chintzy props and photocopied pages that brilliantly fool the senses with scale and dimension-you stand within this space that cuts the main gallery room and are transported into a grand hallway, on the walls of which hang grand portraits, those signifiers of wealth and privilege-and finally to the museum, in which vitrines hold records of cherished objects, a cabinet of pileous curiosities. The side room hosts Bowles’s video installation Obsession, a looped sketch of a woman, her back to the camera, scarlet-gloved, fetishtically running her finger through a strand of hair, the sound of the coarse drag amplified to disquieting effect. This might be the moment when the less inclined to be comfortable around abrupt proximity to such a personal aspect of the body may bolt. Hair, especially estranged from the body, has the paradoxical quality of seeming alive and dead simultaneously-Bowles, with great alacrity, is delighted to chase after this through the far, far fields, referencing the entirety of art history and mediums while on her merry way.