Visiting the Goldsmiths MFA show in New Cross, South London, on a sweltering day in July, the weather and my own existential angst at returning to the site of my old (highly critical) alma mater defeated my attempts to see the whole show. Abandoning the work in the vast Ben Pimlott and St James Hatcham buildings I plumped instead for the works on show at the invitingly cooling sounding Laurie Grove Baths.
Built between 1895 and 1898 these Jacobean style baths, following their closure to the public, were acquired by Goldsmiths in 1999 and converted into studios and teaching rooms for students on the MFA’s Fine Art and Curating courses. For the degree show the large pool showed a selection of paintings and installations, whilst the small pool was given over to artists' film and moving image.
|Lydia Blakeley, The Three Graces, 2019, oil on linen, 180x250cm|
Lydia Blakeley’s series of paintings entitled National Velvet presented a kind of ironic 'Carry On' romp through a day at the races. In The Deposition an Eastender-a-like Phil Grant character is seen in an unseemly rumpus grabbing a spectator in an arm lock. Whilst The Winners Enclosure and The Three Graces depicted pastel dressed, ascot hatted girls behaving badly. These bum exposing, worse for the wear drinking escapades highlighting a particularly broken British bacchanalia.
|Lydia Blakeley, Is This Internet Art? (3) and (2), 2019, oil on linen, 45x35cm each|
Around the main exhibition area the trope of showing smaller works in the small changing booths felt unnecessarily forced. The exception was Blakley’s cubicle in which she showed a series of paintings of curiously enigmatic, what I assumed to be white monkeys, but which I later discovered on her Instagram she calls Cats in a Cubicle with each painting numbered from 1 – 8 and titled Is This Internet Art?. These ambiguous anthropomorphic creatures with their ghostly yet humorous quality worked well within the smaller enclosed space. For me they were the stand out paintings of the exhibition.
|Marijke Vasey, Untitled, 2019, oil & acrylic on canvas, 150x190cm|
In Marijke Vasey’s works, including Untitled and Marginalia, the surface planes were painted as voids in monochromatic or graded colourfields, appeared to me to be paintings about paintings. These voids were variously surrounded by richly Roccoesque painted embellished frames. My immediate response was that the artist was perhaps questioning a certain canonical disdain for the decorative, and presenting it as being consigned to the edge.
|David Mullen Can We Have a Meaningful Dialogue? 2019, oil on canvas 180x140cm.|
Getting Madder and Madder, 2019, oil on linen (rose madder, reseda [yellow lake from weld], indigo, yellow ochre, titanium white, terre verte), 190x140cm.
There is no hint of such disdain in the work of David Mullen. In his large bold plant paintings the artist luxuriates in exploring the tensions between abstract and figurative representation, some teeter on the edge whilst others cannot resist dissolving into grand gestural glupey-dauby brush strokes where the original plant image remains only as a distant echo. With a title such as Can We Have a Meaningful Debate? Mullen seems to be addressing the contemporary place of abstract painting with perhaps a sly reference to his time at Goldsmiths? The artist’s practice has recently taken an interesting shift, making the plant motif in the work conceptually significant. ‘My ambition’ he states ‘is to create oil paintings that, if unsuccessful, could safely be put onto a compost heap rather than into landfill. The paintings must therefore be biodegradable and non-toxic'. Cultivating his long long-standing interest in colour and the materiality of paint, Mullen has begun to use natural earth and organic pigments synthesised from plants. Getting Madder and Madder, and Greenwashing (Still Life with Weld) have been made according to this new methodology. Each painting is based on one of the aforementioned plants and contains pigment produced from that plant.
|Ginou Choeiri, Rhythm of Forgetting, video still|
From the artist’s film & moving image selections in the small pool I found Ginou Choeiri’s film Rhythm of Forgetting to be the most engaging mostly for one extraordinary image of a lone woman in a vast expanse of sea wearing a strange jester like hat. Choeiri is a Lebanese artist and although the film needed a second viewing to decipher all the underlying themes, it had a rare humanity amongst the other more cerebral, abstract, mostly landscape dominated films. On a purely visual level Choeiri’s images of girls braiding hair and the aforementioned startlingly original sea jester stayed with me more than the others.
Having gone through the ‘grind them down’ Goldsmiths treadmill myself back in the day I was pleasantly surprised to find that despite their best efforts they still haven’t manage to completely purge the art world of pesky persistent painters. A reminder perhaps to the next Goldsmiths’ graduates that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.
Goldsmiths MFA Degree Show
Laurie Grove Baths
19 - 23 July 2019