Friday, 8 June 2018

Ornamental Neon at ASC Gallery

Alex Michon reviews a ‘performance of the feminine’ painting show by imagining that the artists are all members of a girl band. 

Amanda Houchen, Kaleidoscope Dreams, 90x80cm, oil & acrylic on canvas

A faintly corrupt sweetness seeps through the fluro-fakery overload of the sensual in Ornamental Neon where four artists present their individual responses to the explicit title. The press release states that ‘ornament, like the world of emotion, is transformed into an elaborate stage set upon which to enact the performance of the feminine’ this led me to imagine the exhibition as a metaphorical enactment of a radical girl-band, where each player lends her own rhythm to a collective song. 

As her paintings most overtly express the title, I designated Amanda Houchen as the ‘singer. Decorative - check, flourishes of neon - check, yet just as in a song where the words and the music create their own unintended poetry, so Houchen’s paintings subvert the viewer’s expectations suggesting varied, mysterious and layered readings. Kaleidoscope Dreams in all its Viennese Secessionist suggested sequinned splendour and folk-art frenzy is a carnivalesque acid tapestry trip of a painting. The eye to the turned tube releases a shaken tsunami of glass beads reconfiguring and pattering across the lens / canvas as a turquoise eyed Madonna holds court with her ambiguous black faced flame-haired companion. Cocoon with its peacock plumage-ing and lush Max Factor orange glamoured lipstick presents a bejewelled lady of fashion and fantasy. To me she appears to be wearing a crown-like hair net snood, American Civil War stylee - think Scarlett O Hara, or even those chunky knit crochet hats of the 1970s once the height of boho fashion now more likely to be relegated to some second hand bargain bin. Houchen’s opulent paintings are located in an indefinable no time where hints of previous eras replay an unknowing nostalgia for a never real.

Amanda Houchen, Cocoon, oil & acrylic on canvas,  60x50cm

Vanessa Mitter for me is the lead guitarist, as in guitar solos were the notion of less is more is disregarded her colour palette is unapologetically tuned to the highest setting. Her canvases are bathed in sumptuous over the top high-octane floribundal flourishes with added collaged overdubs. Suggestions here are of fashion, interiors or bridal magazines where the promise of a gaudy good life has been stretched so far it is fit to burst. Unquiet Brideswas particularly interesting as when I visited the exhibition the whole country was wallowing in the spectacle of the Royal Wedding. Mitter’s paintings also lead me down a rabbit’s hole of reminiscences. I was reminded of Socialist Worker Vanessa Redgrave singing the Lusty Month of May in the camp over decorative hippyfied section of the 1967 musical film Camelot

Vanessa Mitter, Unquiet Brides, oil, collage & pigment on canvas,  90x80cm

Many films from this era had at some point to include a totally unrelated hippy segment in them to make them seem more current. Mitter’s maidens however are no mere flower child fetishes, the fact that her brides are ‘unquiet’ hints at a knowing upended painterly seduction. 

Camelot (Joshua Logan, 1967)

In the context of my Ornamental Neon girl band combo, Paige Perkins is the bass player, the stripped back soulful heartbeat holding down the rhythm. In Messengersa pony-tailed nude petting a little creature stares out at the viewer from the canvas in a melancholic mood of languorous longing. By her side lies a drawn-down-from the moon pierrotesque head lending the scene a ‘silent laughter of the soul’ sadness. In the background, bluebirds, blooms and crimson polka dots fall from the sky like shooting star kisses. A vaguely painted second figure looks on ambiguously. Perkins’s paintings are rooted in her subconscious, where the narratives are never fixed. Her stories are ours to steal for our own interpretation. So is this sad-eyed lady of the pink-lands post coital or waiting on a promise? Whatever the outcome it is her relationship with the little animal that is most striking. Un-lulled by the petting, the animal too stares out at the viewer ready to pounce should any harm come to its mistress.

Paige Perkins, Messengers, oil on canvas, 120x160cm

As Daisy Parris’s polemical word poetry paintings crash against the over exuberant neo-Baroque overload on show she stands in as my imaginary drummer. Parris’s hard-edged text driven paintings lend a contradictory Situationist ‘beauty is on the streets’ aesthetic. Intrigued by blood (or maybe wine) splatters she spots on the pavement as in Red Liquid in a Clear Bin Bag she uses these queasy dark signifiers of urban unease as the starting point for her painting. 

Daisy Parris, Red Liquid in a Clear Bin Bag, oil & emulsion on canvas, 92x75cm

Out of all the artists, Parris will I hope approve of my review being couched in girl band terms, after writing my piece I did a brief internet search of her work and found to my delight that she had also once formed a fantasy band which she called the Ugly Bitch Club which as she says ‘has now become more of a reality as a feminist paint collective’.

Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen Ornamental Neon have now left the building.

Alex Michon 

Ornamental Neon
Amanda Houchen, Vanessa Mitter, Daisy Parris, Paige Perkins

18 May – 1 June  2018
ASC Gallery, The Chaplin Centre, 1 Taplow House, Thurlow Street 
London SE17 2DG

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