Beers London presents The Fantasy of Representation, an exhibition exploring figurative representation in painting featuring the artist’s Hurvin Anderson, Francis Bacon, Gary Hume, Alexander Tinei, Dale Adcock, Scott Anderson, Sverre Bjertnaes, Alison Blickle, Daniel Crews-Chubb, Blake Daniels, Eckart Hahn, Aaron Holz, Adam Lee, Jenny Morgan, Justin Ogilvie, Lou Ros, Andrew Salgado, and Dominic Shepherd.
‘In the last few years, a lot of artists – and with them the curators who are their eager supporters – have been advancing a new theory of figurative art. This, like so many things in the contemporary art scene, bases itself on a paradox. The paradox is that appropriated images are in fact the most original things a would-be avant-gardist can present to his or her audience.
This proposition has both deep roots and shallow ones. The deep roots are to be found in the long-established Western studio tradition, dating at least as far back as the Bolognese academy of the closing years of the 16th century, that young artists, rather than starting ab initio, must learn to build of the achievements of their predecessors. A rather similar attitude prevailed in China, after the fall of the Ming Dynasty, when court painters were more anxious to produce landscapes ‘in the manner of’ respected Song and Yuan masters than to portray anything they actually saw.
The shallow roots are in Pop Art, which encouraged artists to identify with contemporary mass culture by appropriating images from films and publicity photos of film stars, from news photographs, from advertising, and from a wide variety of other non-art sources. This practice has now reached a second stage. A recent show at the Saatchi Gallery, for example, offered a near identical version of an Andy Warhol Elvis, signed by a painter from Belorussia, and, venturing into classier territory, an upside down copy of a well-known painting by Fragonard – the original is now in the Wallace Collection. Both of these were presented as radically creative efforts to push forward the frontiers of avant-gardism. After careful scrutiny, I couldn’t think why either artwork should interest me. Been there, done that. The only pleasure either them could offer was a smug little voice in one’s head, saying: “Clever me, I’m one of the gang – I know what the original is.”
Given the fact that the original Modern Movement, which got its start at the beginning of the 20th century, placed such emphasis on original ways of seeing the surrounding, contingent world; and given, too, that the Modernist impulse, though now quite distant from us, still governs so many of our reactions to the idea of art, regarded as a process of making images, it is not surprising that some artists have again begun to rebel, and to look for ways of presenting images that a wholly and unmistakably personal. The results are what the visitor sees in this exhibition.
The artists selected range from a few who might be described as Old Masters – at least within the selected terms of the event – to names that will be new to most people. There is, deliberately, no consistency of style. Andrew Salgado, the distinguished younger artist who has put the show together, speaks of “our desire (as artists and viewers alike), to transcend, to challenge and to subvert.” I think the event does exactly that. A large part of its subversive effect, to me at least, is that it makes it very clear that much supposedly progressive art, as currently blessed by so many of our official institutions, is begging for a massive kick up the backside. I’m tired of looking at ho-hum art. This seems to offer a way out.’
Edward Lucie-Smith – ‘The Way I See It Is Not The Way You See It’
The Fantasy of Representation – Beers London – 31 July to 19 September 2015