The Romance of Flowers exhibition, featuring artists Victoria Adam, Aaron Angell, Holly Graham, May Hands and Sean Roy Parker, plus some W.F. Johnson veining tools, opened at the Kingsgate Project Space gallery on 17th November 2018 and runs until 16th December.
Our flower making tools are displayed on a wall-mounted plinth a little like a cross between a shelf and a lectern. Lined up in a row, as if waiting to be lifted by their work-worn wooden handles, these familiar (to me), utilitarian objects here take on a new and somewhat mysterious aura. Seen in the context of this exhibition, the tools could almost be works of art themselves, crafted from cast bronze and polished wood, pieces referencing museum artefacts perhaps, the ritual paraphernalia of some obscure and long since vanished civilization. And it is the energy created by the art works on display in this intimate gallery space that lend the tools their new allure.
Five artists provide the work for the show. For Apotopaic Circle, Victoria Adam has marked out a set of wide curves, applied directly to the gallery floor with a stick of deodorant, the various deodorising fragrances used listed in the exhibition handout. Adam's other piece in the show, For A Melancholic Man, also comes in two varieties, citris-blossom and fir, though to contrasting effect. The piece consists of a pair of glass orbs part-filled with golden honey, suspended by leather cords from the gallery ceiling. Puckered openings in the top of the orbs encourage the visitor to sniff at the contents. If Apotopaic Circle employs a throw-away item picked from the shopping basket of contemporary consumer culture, For A Melancholic Man evokes an alchemist's cell or an artisan's workshop. This contrast is further reinforced by the use of opposing parts of the gallery space, the floor and the ceiling.
Aaron Angell's Crane, a ceramic piece made with reduced stoneware and a shino glaze, uses fine craft technique combined with a bold and direct approach to representation. This gives the piece an emblematic power, enabling the work to more than hold its own among larger, more extrovert art forms. The size and shape of a transistor radio, Crane manages to convey an impression of great solidity and weight. The flower motif has all the robust, unselfconcious finese found in a child's drawing, but here given a further sense of permanence having been rendered in kiln-fired clay.
Holly Graham's series of giclee prints, Basket, is put together by the artist using enlarged details of prints found in the archives of Harry Jacobs, a photographer active in Stockwell in the 1950s. In Basket, Graham presents close-ups of arrangements of artifical flowers, the images gleaned from the background of Jacob's portraits. These repurposed still-life compositions are rendered in delicate, almost ghostly tones of silver-grey, and the large unframed prints seem to float unsupported in space. In fact they are mounted on the wall with six inch stainless steel bolts.
May Hand's towering, majestic Shimmer and the swooping arc of Skeleton combine the ephemeral with the epic to dramatic effect. Using man-made materials scavenged from pavement litter-bins, along with nature's equivalent, soil, seeds, fallen petals, these pieces make a strength of their own fragility. Beneath them, the gallery floor is scattered with a rich confetti of dirt and detritus. The smaller, wall-mounted Lavender Encrusted is perhaps more traditionally sculptural in its form, but this too combines the evocative delicacy of lace with the solid practicalities of wire and glue. Ultimately the effect is vivid and sensual, and these are arguably the works that most strongly reflect the exhibition's title.
Sean Roy Parker employs found objects and readymades, creating work that is quite literally the stuff of contemporary urban life while simultaneously referencing an artistic practise that stretches back to the roots of modernism. Taking objects that are defiantly anti-aesthetic, a broken flat-screen, a used teabag, an empty paracetamol blister-pack, the artist creates pieces that serve as a record of time and space. This made me think of the landscape-based work of Richard Long, but here re-imagined for a twenty-first century urban environment, clear-eyed and self-possessed in mood, intimate in scale.
The Romance of Flowers is showing from 17th November to 16th December 2018 at Kingsgate Project Space gallery 110 -116 Road, London NW6 2JG