Monday, 11 March 2019

Group Show

Alex Michon encounters a Divine-arama collection of work by artists with more than one string to their creative bows at 'Group Show', an exhibition curated by Pippa Brooks at M Goldstein Gallery in East London.

Bereft of a cleverdicky art-speak title into whose service the original artists intentions are often superficially corralled, Group Show refreshingly presents a visually seductive selection of work chosen by curator Pippa Brooks. Explaining her selective modus-operandi Brooks tells me that she 'likes to chase people whose works I am interested in. Either I know them or I have seen their work on Instagram’.

Ah! Instagram, that finger swiping mothership of look-see artistic promotion which brought me to this show after seeing John Maybury’s daubs, as he called them, on there.

John Maybury, Lost Boys

If there is a unifying feature to the show,  Brooks says that it is that; ‘most of the artists are known for other things’. John Maybury is primarily known as a film maker famous for his award winning Francis Bacon biopic, Love is the Devil

Interviewed in Wylde magazine Brooks explains that ‘What a lot of people don’t know about John Maybury is that he studied film and painting at art school. He started painting his Lost Boys in acrylic paint on top of pages of porn magazines in the late 1970s.’ Unlike most people maybe, I ostensibly knew Maybury as a painter. Back in the day I shared a flat with a student who studied with him at North East London Polytechnic. She would ecstatically talk about his amazing paintings of butch men, and about the writings of Jean Genet which they were both into. Highly influenced by her charismatic college friend, my flat-mate began making large scale paintings of male nudes on grey prison issue blankets. I was totally fascinated by the imagery and her stories of this iconoclastic painter and immersed myself in a lifelong love of Genet’s writings. Although I never saw Maybury’s paintings at that time, when I encountered them recently on Instagram I immediately recognised an affinity with  Genet’s hinterland of ‘toughs’. A previously illicit beefcake beauty gloriously re-imagined through paint.

John Maybury, Lost Boys

At Group Show, Maybury’s Lost Boys are shown mounted in a grid where each painting can be lifted up to reveal the page of the (original 70s /80s) pornographic magazine on which they have been painted. This inclusion of old school porno along with my own quaint referencing of the term beefcake lends an endearing element, which mirrors Genet’s own fascination with tearing out images of criminals from newspapers and mounting them on the back of a regulations sheet on his prison cell wall as a masturbatory aide.

The newspapers are tattered by the time they reach my cell, and the finest pages have been looted of their finest flowers, those pimps, like gardens in May. The big inflexible, strict pimps, their members in full bloom - I no longer know whether they are lillies or whether lillies and members are not totally they, so much so that in the evening, on my knees in thought I encircle their legs with my arms all that rigidity floors me…I have made star shaped frames for the most purely criminal.  In the evening…I turn the back of the regulations sheet towards me. Smiles and sneers, alike inexorable enter me by all the holes I offer, their vigour erects me and penetrates me.   
Jean Genet, Our Lady of the Flowers 

Aside from their erotic charge, Maybury’s boys are stunningly rendered with sweepingly sure brush strokes, luscious sweeps of chunky fleshy paint daubs add to the paintings’ charged atmosphere; recalling a kind of pre-internet porn seductive virile beauty.

Princess Julia x Noki, Backstreet Girls (1 of series)

Princess Julia’s 'day job' is as an influential DJ, writer and as Wikipedia asserts; ‘first lady of London’s fashion scene’. Known for her DJ slots at iconic 1980s club  Kinky Gerlinky where pre-Ru Paul clubbing culture met outrageous drag. For Group Show, Princess Julia has collaborated with Noki a subversive fashion designer and customiser who believes that cutting, stitching or embellishing a garment makes an assault on the homogeneity of mass produced globalised fashion design. Here Noki embellishes Princess Julia’s celebrity portraits of Rihanna, Celine Dion, Grace Jones and Madonna with eyes and smiles which he has cut from a Back Street Boys tour t-shirt. These stitched additions to the paintings are funny but they also comment more deeply on the fleeting nature of celebrity and the prevailing obsessions with contouring, cutting, pasting and plastic surgery perfection seeking.

Louise Grey, Leg It

Other refugees from fashion are the designer Louise Gray who has contributed a limited poster called Leg It specifically for the show and  Liza Keane whose fashion illustrations Brooks came across on Instagram. Keane’s Vol 11: Woman in Love which shows a woman holding a lamb seemingly pierced with arrow tipped branches seems to be a female take on  the iconic (homoerotic) Renaissance paintings of St Sebastian. A sacrificial lamb to the slings and arrows of broken-up-love pain perhaps?

Liza Keane, Love Series vol ll

Elsewhere photographer William Selden contributes two digital prints which lend a quiet and fluid serenity to the proceedings, whilst humour is introduced in the politically tinged illustrations of sometime set designer Millree Hughes one of which shows Harold Wilson in drag and has ‘central casting Welshman’ written in Welsh. As recounted to me by Brooks this is a reference to the Welsh being shafted by various Labour Governments.

William Selden,  Composition in Yellow 

Shiori Takahshi’s Head Piece is perhaps the most indicative of the artist’s other job, that of hairdresser, although as Brooks says ‘she’s seriously inventive with her manipulation of real hair. I’ve watched her weave discarded ring-pulls into hair creating such beauty from trash - something I love.’

Shiori Takahashi, Rodding Road E5

Rachael Robb’s intricate realistically painting entitled Skull seems something of an anomaly here yet if you look closely at this apparently traditional still life, the memento mori orb is incongruously painted next to banal items such as a mug with a little cowboy like figure and a ubiquitous bottle of Kikoman soy sauce. The painting’s inclusion in the show is a curve ball which Brooks intended, ‘yes' she says ‘it is a very different sort of painting style and it sort of doesn’t fit but I liked it and I don’t like rules so I put it in!’

Rachael Robb, Skull

Brooks’s individual chasing down of artists for Group Show along with her steadfast aim of not playing by the accepted art world rules has resulted in an interesting eclectic mix of artists whose work speaks for itself. As the curator herself says ‘It either works or it doesn’t’ and here for me at least it certainly did.

Alex Michon 

Group Show
John Maybury, Princess Julia x Noki, Shiori Takahashi,
Millree Hughes, William Selden, Rachael Robb, Louise Gray, Liza Keane
Curated by Pippa Brooks.

1- 14 March 2019

M Goldstein Gallery
67 Hackney Road, London E2