Until July 14
Double Vision is the third show at the Lion & Lamb Gallery, quite literally a few white walls within the pub of the same name.
As eluded to in the title, this exhibition of contemporary abstract painting sets out to explore a series of binary oppositions: figure and field, surface and depth, chance and system, symmetry and asymmetry.
While these are well-traveled avenues of exploration, the quality of the works on display makes revisiting them worthwhile. For in this surprising setting at the back of a pub are some beautiful paintings (amidst several other very good ones and, as is almost inevitable in any group show such as this, a few which I found uninteresting).
The quality of the works makes the context of the exhibition especially intriguing, adding further narratives to the dialogues being explored. Despite being only five minutes’ walk from the try-hard nightspots of Hoxton Square and Shoreditch, the Lion & Lamb is assuredly not a pub for self-designated hipsters. Double Vision is here presented in an authentically unprepossessing east London boozer sitting amidst council estates. This context opens up another set of binary oppositions to be explored, between democracy and elitism, exclusivity and inclusion. The series of paintings on display would look perfectly in place in a white cube space, but this is very far from that.
Abstract painting has perhaps suffered more than most ‘genres’ in being viewed as inaccessible and existing within a self-referential bubble. Would this alternative, possibly more accessible display context overcome this or would preconceptions leave the gallery as a perennial empty space at the back of the pub? I will return to this question.
The hang here is also worth noting. No doubt in part simply a result of the confines of the space, the works are scattered across the walls in loose groupings and assemblages. I normally find anything straying from a conventional hang in which every painting has its own space distracting, but here it works. Perhaps the relatively uniform and small size of the paintings is what makes this possible. The eye of the viewer is subtly directed from one painting to another, and the sense is of considered composition rather than cramped fitting in. With two dozen paintings on display, the below is a snapshot of those works I found most interesting. Inevitably another viewer may have arrived at an entirely different selection.
The first painting to catch my eye was Mali Morris’ Degrees of Freedom. Stages between transparency and opacity are integral to Morris’ paintings. Here translucency allows a faint suggestion of what lies beneath to pass through to the surface, and hints at the process of building up which has taken place. In the swirling creamish top layer there is a beguiling organic freedom in the brushwork and a frothiness at the points where it meets or leaves the canvas. The central molecule-like structure was created by the erasure of the uppermost layer of paint; this erasure is explicitly stated as a considered decision, yet the flowing brushmarks around it contain just as much decisiveness in judging the moment of when to leave them as they are.
In creating by erasure or excavation Morris reverses the more typical process of placing form upon field. In Degrees of Freedom the almost isometric angle of the molecule-like structure gives a vague suggestion of perspectival space, hovering within the translucent layers. This is an intriguing additional dimension to this painting, not found in the isolated circular forms her paintings usually reveal.
Sitting on the same wall, Alice Browne’s untitled work more overtly explores perspective. Eight simple lines break up a dark shape to create a sense of looking into a void. As the eye is drawn into the centre of the composition, the dark shape presses out to the edges so that any sense of relief in space is reduced to a few mere slivers of light.
In Metan by Chris Baker depth seems to have dissolved as lines fall into disorder; the painting seems intensely planar, an irregular grid hovering in front of an indeterminable space beyond. In referencing and partially disordering the structure of the grid, this painting enters into dialogue with a number of works in Double Vision which explore the tension between chance and system. Many works feature certain compositional or process-related decisions which have been minutely planned, while in others there is a sense of much freer, more lyrical experimentation where the decision to stop is the crucial one.
Isha Bohling’s Divider appears to encapsulate a means of composition based on a system being devised and followed through. The morphing diamond motifs work almost like fractals. But that ‘almost’ brings a vital ambiguity to it: in certain sections the system seems to have been corrupted, and in these ‘imperfections’ the hand of the artist seeps back in.
Another work connecting with Morris’s painting is Dan Roach‘s captivating Bridgegate. This beautiful painting plays in its own way with opacity and transparency. Again each layer offers glimpses of those beneath, through the sweeping yet juddering brush marks. Particularly enjoyable is the sudden vertical line of white within the green polygon where the outward spiral that creates it abruptly ends. Further poise and balance is achieved through the way in which the green polygon’s satisfying outline of sharply pointed and smoothly rounded corners is mirrored by the fragile, transparent, white fragments of the topmost layer.
I was still very interested in the unusual display context and returned to the Lion & Lamb one evening several days later to see how the inter-relationship between gallery and pub functioned when it was busy. Would being in such a social space re-inject something more overtly human into these abstract works? Sadly there was no interaction while I was there; the pub goers staying in the other half and the gallery remaining empty.
Yet even with only limited visitor crossover the pub-gallery hybrid model (which should be seen as distinct from the not uncommon ‘spaces for hire’ that some pubs may have) holds many benefits. It allows artwork to be put out on display in the socio-cultural arena without having to be too concerned with the economic. The risks, practicalities and cost of operating even a temporary space are taken care of, offering greater possibilities for experimental and idiosyncratic curation. And art is placed centrally in a community rather than being reified in inaccessible white cubes. Surely any artwork must be considered differently when viewed between the beer taps down at the local, and it’s worth taking the opportunity to see it in such a way.