Hugh Mendes Obituaries Exhibition For February

After his success at the London Art Fair Mendes mounts a one person show at Charlie Smith Gallery

Hugh Mendes will open his first one person show at the Charlie Smith gallery in February. Mendes, a mature artist began making oil paintings of newspaper pages in 2001 when he found a scrap of an Arabic newspaper in Brick Lane, east London. Blowing onto his feet, he picked up a newspaper picture of a turbaned man aiming a Kalashnikov which he later made into a painting that formed part of a diptych, the other being a portrait of George W. Bush. Scheduled to be shown at Mendes’ final MA show, opening on September 11th 2001, the artist had portentously paired Bush with a Kalashnikov aimed at him by the then relatively unknown Osama Bin Laden. This became the precursor of one of Mendes’ two obsessions: the first being The War on Terror, a ten year retrospective of which was recently exhibited at Kenny Schachter / ROVE; and the second being an unyielding recreation of newspaper Obituaries.

Although it is clear that these paintings belong to the still life genre they are of a very particular niche, and this is the first time that a selection will be shown together as a group. Still life of course brings with it associations of the Memento Mori. Mankind has been warned by artists throughout history to remember that you are mortal, and Hugh Mendes continues this tradition compulsively. The root of this is perhaps biographical. Mendes’ father was a newspaper editor who amassed a collection of hundreds of significant newspaper editions, piles of which were found at his home upon his death. Mendes sat with the deceased body, ruminating for two full days. The artist had also been exposed to the tragedy of bereavement early in life, when he lost his mother prematurely aged 7. As postulated by Freud, trauma is bound by a compulsion to repeat in order to be overcome, and this repetition can be transferred into many forms.

In turning to newspapers for obituaries Mendes also creates distance from the personal, sublimating it with the deaths of political, cultural and celebrity figures. And in this a confrontation takes place where loss is mourned and fear defied. There is also a type of redemption, where focus is redrawn from the dead to the living. An obituary is, after all, the celebration of a remarkable life as well as a significant death. In turning to the well-known Mendes’ oeuvre has become a record of our recent life and times, paying homage to those in the public arena, to those deemed successful enough to warrant a page or so in a broadsheet upon their demise. Interestingly celebrity figures have begun collecting Mendes obituaries themselves, flirting perhaps with that which will come to them. Recent noteworthy acquisitions have been made by Jerry Hall and Bill Wyman, for example, which have been private decisions based on the subject portrayed. And it is here where Mendes weaves back into the personal, where the choice of subject is defined by his particular interests. Artists, writers, singers, film stars and political figures such as Lucian Freud, Tom Lubbock, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Amy Winehouse and Muammar Gaddafi are particularly visible, and each selection is made according to their impact on the artist as well as on the world at large.

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