As well as the events mounted in the two main centres, the Arsenale and the Giardini, the Venice Biennale hosts a number of official collateral exhibitions. The advantages of seeing these collateral events are they are often housed in one of the many Palazzos dotted all over Venice or in the lesser known Museums which are often converted from these palazzos. Two such exhibitions are Peter Doig at the Palazzetto Tito and Sean Scully: Land and Sea at the Palazzo Falier. Both artists are showing new works, many of which have been conceived especially for these shows.
The mix of these beautiful Venetian palaces with their classical architectural detailing, elaborate doorways, Murano glass chandeliers, inter-connecting rooms and leaded glass windows give an added edge to these very contemporary but different painters.
Peter Doig’s figurative paintings are often based on antiquity and heritage as well as myths and legends from his adopted home of Trinidad. The recurring lion motif in this exhibition is relevant to both Venice as the city’s symbol and to Trinidad in its association with Rastafarian culture. The palette of the large canvas the Lion in the Road reminded me of Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series (currently on view at the Royal Academy) with its yellow, pink and blue hues. Other recurring motifs are fishermen in their boats, riders on horseback and naked women with influences from Goya and de Chirico? The small paintings are the first stage in his creative process. Doig says he likes the portability of these small pieces, the way he can spin them around or put them on his lap to see how the images develop. The larger works allow him to experience the surface weave of the canvas and to see how light hits the surface in different places. In all his paintings you are aware of the many layers and pigments he uses to build up the surface. The natural light from the leaded windows at the Palazzetto Tito enhance this experience.
Sean Scully, on the other hand, uses the structure of Venice as his source material, the movement of the water and the way it hits the brick and stone of the city. The elegant Palazzo Falier with its view over the Grand Canal emphasises this experience. The loose, expressive gestural, horizontal brush strokes of the Landline paintings in blues, greens and grey matches the movement of the water on the canal while the structure of the buildings are echoed in the Doric paintings with their mix of vertical and horizontal rectangles. In addition, there is the monumental Slope and The Gatherer painted on aluminium and divided into four separate sections each with two colours with a softened sense of geometry.
Although, these artists are so different in their choice of visual language they are united in how they exploited the Venetian setting for the benefit of their works and the result was the highlight of my Venice Biennale.
Words: Sara Faith Robinson Photos: PC Robinson © Artlyst 2015
Sean Scully exhibits with the Timothy Taylor Gallery London. Peter Doig exhibits with Michael Werner London/NY Doig images By permission of the artist and Michael Werner Gallery, London and New York