Strangeness is the indispensable condiment of all beauty. (Charles Baudelaire)
March 29th marks the first collaboration between Kristian Day and Edinburgh's Arusha Gallery with the exhibition Night Realms, a group show featuring the work of Hamish Pearch, Margaux Valengin, Markus Vater, Ana Milenkovic, Rafal Topolewski and Christopher Orr.
This cosmopolitan group, at different stages in their careers, produce work that is profoundly Romantic in nature. This Romanticism is strongly reminiscent both of the pan- European sensibility most associated with artists and writers such as Gustave Moreau, Odilon Redon, Caspar David Friedrich, Charles Baudelaire, and also profoundly modern in its desire for intimacy, meaning and security in a socially fragmented world.
This longing for the intangible is perhaps at its most overt in Markus Vater’s painting ‘Almost invisible person’, in which the main, almost invisible, figure endeavours to capture the reflected moonlight on the water as the figure itself fades out of our reality becoming as intangible as the reflection itself, to quote the great Symbolist Odilon Redon "...in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined".
The artists in Night Realms often make use of collage as a part of their practice, either as a compositional tool at an early stage in proceedings, or in a more overt and immediately visible way on the painted surface. The inherent changes of scale and uncanny juxtapositions appeal to, seduce but elude the rationale of the eye, engaging instead the imagination. Images invite association but repel absolute interpretation. Where there seems to be a hint of mythology or allegory, it often serves more to obscure than to clarify meaning.
Although the painting on show at Night Realms is predominantly figurative, it is also often dark and enigmatic, eluding clear definition. As such, it engages the darker, clandestine, side of the human psyche, where meanings are confused and space disorientating, vertiginous, dreamlike or hallucinatory.
Ana Milenkovic (b. 1988, Belgrade, Serbia; lives and works in London)
“I have passion for unfamiliar images and stories, but also channels through which they reach us, and my works serve as meeting points where unrelated elements interact, sending the viewer through a variety of moods – nostalgic, comical, sublime, disturbing or grotesque.”
Milenkovic works across a wide range of media to create art that evokes surprising, provoking and multi-layered meanings. In the open-ended scenes and narratives of her paintings, objects lose their integrity and turn into containers for encoded thoughts and symbols. She combines randomly collected photographic collages to reveal their visual and emblematic character. Sometimes chaotic and at other times delicately and elegantly constructed, her compositions serve as a meeting points where associations interact.
Ana studied at the Faculty of Fine Art in Belgrade and at the Wimbledon College of Art. She is a recipient of the Clifford Chance/University of the Arts Sculpture award in 2015 and of the Griffin Art Prize in 2016. Milenkovic's recent exhibitions include If It Bends It’s Funny/If It Breaks It’s Not Funny at Bosse & Baum and Demimonde at Amberwood House.
Christopher Orr (b. 1967, Helensburgh, Scotland; lives and works in London)
There is a marked contrast between the intimacy of Christopher Orr’s compact oil paintings and the vastness of the scenes they depict: deep oceans, expansive skies, and formidable forests. Executed in broad-yet-precise brushstrokes, Orr’s works evoke the sublime worlds of J.M.W. Turner and Caspar David Friedrich. Moreover, the diminutive figures, based on magazine shoots from the 1950s and ’60s who populate these sweeping landscapes, seem out of place, as do the oversized shrubbery or animals that often appear. Through Orr’s earthy palette and technique of juxtaposing areas of dry, scraped-back pigment “with richer, fresher looking passages conjures a dramatic lost world,” as described by critic Michael Wilson, his romantic renderings are decidedly “post-modern” in their approach of deconstructing and merging various art historical styles into surrealistic compositions.
Christopher Orr draws his inspiration from old books and science magazines like the National Geographic. Frequently, he transfers parts of the found images to his paintings, maintaining their actual size. Passing on the responsibility for the scale in his paintings to his source material, he allows strangely fragmented images to develop, at the same time revealing his detachment from ideas of romantic entirety. Nature is represented in a condensed way, for example as supernatural light or uncanny mist, both possible expressions for a mystical or religious shiver. The object of attention remains disclosed to the viewer. An absence that expresses a contemporary uncertainty, as the unknown could be anything from the appearance of a UFO or a natural spectacle to an emptiness or something very trivial, Christopher Orr prefers not to spell it out.
Christopher Orr was born in Helensburgh, Scotland in 1967. He studied at Duncan Jordanstone College of Art and at the Royal College of Art in London.
Orr has participated in group exhibitions including Between the Late and Early, The Royal Scottish Academy, The Mound, Edinburgh; No New Thing Under The Sun, Royal Academy, London; The Front Room, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, St. Louis, US; Don Quijote, Witte de With, Rotterdam; and Ideal Worlds: Romanticism in Contemporary Art, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt. Recent solo shows include Light Shining Darkly, Kunsthaus Baselland, Basel, CH; Hauser and Wirth, Zurich, CH; and Before and After Science, Arndt & Partner, Berlin, DE.
He lives and works in London.
Hamish Pearch (b. 1993, London, UK)
Hamish Pearch works through a combination of objects and images, often playing with scale and materials. He looks at the relationship between 2D and 3D surfaces, between reality and artifice and between the banal and the magical. By mixing and remaking forms, Pearch aims to articulate the ambiguous experience of objects and images in circulation around us today.
Pearch thinks with objects. It’s through objects, by eschewing language, that we can learn most about ourselves. Other works being made or thought about concurrently are: the insides of volcanos, parts inside a body, the site of a factory, with all its pipes and mechanics. The gas that passes through pumping chambers to make something happen. A sort of liquid magic.
Hamish studied at the Camberwell College of Art and is currently a student at the Royal Academy Schools, London. Recent exhibitions include Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour on the Bedpost Overnight? Will Rees, J. Hammond Projects, London; Curiosites, Sans Titres, Paris; XL Catlin Art Prize, London-Newcastle Project Space; Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2015, Primary Nottingham and ICA, London.
Rafal Topolewski (b. 1983, Grudziadz, Poland; lives and works in London)
Banality, triviality, drawing and architecture form the core interests in Rafal’s painting practice. The paintings are made intuitively—led by line, form and texture—and then become subject to a period of consideration and combination, inside and outside frame of work. The subject matter is of secondary, almost incidental interest to the artist whose use of repeated motifs (objects for sale, imagined landscapes, palm and pine trees) are chosen as much for their challenging textures as for their concepts or stories. Nonetheless these small, densely painted images are richly allusive, claustrophobic, reminiscent perhaps of Kipling’s night forest.
Rafal studied Architecture at the Wroclaw University of Technology before studying Fine Art at Manchester Metropolitan University and then at the Royal Academy Schools, London. He has exhibited at The International 3, (Manchester), The Royal Standard (Liverpool), Malgras Naudet (Manchester) London Art Fair with the Catlin Guide, at Art Gwangju with Castlefield Gallery, CAVE art-fair and with The International 3 at Art 13. Topolewski was one of the four finalists of The Saatchi Gallery and Channel 4’s New Sensations Prize 2012, and was invited by The Zabludowicz Collection to take part in Testing Ground: Master Class. His work is held in a number of private collections and in The Saatchi Collection.
Margaux Valengin (b. Peronne, France; lives and works in New York)
Bizarre compositions of animals, plants, and other objects in vivid colours play a key role in Valengin’s artistry, which often recall works of surrealist abstraction. She describes her subject matter as being “sort of imposed (on her) by an instinctual voice”. The resulting works often play on the viewers’ sense of the dream-like, the troubling and the uncanny. Her iconography favours imaginary settings and she often uses the techniques of collage as a means of determining composition. This can have a disruptive effect on the viewer’s sense of scale and space: “multiple sceneries are either projecting a casual motif or eccentric utopias, yet beautifully coexist within the same painting. One single space embeds various realities.” (Yannis Kostarias)
Margaux studied at the Ecole Nationale Superieure de la Cambre in Brussels and received an MFA at the Royal College of Art, London, in 2016
Markus Vater (b. 1970, Duesseldorf, Germany; lives and works in London)
"Markus Vater ’s work is diverse and resists vehemently any categorisation: seemingly naive line drawings and animations exist beside fine, detail rich portraits drawings, paintings, as well as photos and videos. Language plays an important role repeatedly, either as poignant titles or as text that is part of the work or becomes the work itself. Markus Vater’s art wants to mobilize our mental activity into various directions. His work is occupied with the big questions that face human kind, like the apocalypse or vulnerabilities of human civilisation. But it also gives space for one’s own associations and stimulates new and unexpected answers to existential questions." Beat Wismer (Director, Museum Kunstpalast, Duesseldorf)
Vater was born 1970 in Duesseldorf and grew up in the Eifel south of Cologne. He studied at the Kunstakademie in Muenster and Duesseldorf and at the Royal College in London, where he graduated in 2000. Markus Vater’s practice is diverse and includes: Drawing, painting, animation, video, sculpture and performance. He has taken part in numerous national and international exhibitions: Among others at the Kunstmuseum Bonn, Museum Gertsch in Switzerland, at the Kunsthalle Mannheim, the Royal Academy in London and more recent at Museum Kunstpalast in Duesseldorf, Museum Baden and the Wilhelm Hack Museum in Ludwigshafen . He has had shows with Timothy Taylor, Vilma Gold, ibid-projects, Anthony d'Offay and Centre of Attention in London. He is Alumni of the Villa Romana Scholarship Florence. Since 2001 he has been a Visiting Lecturer at Goldsmith College London, Slade and Chelsea College of Art. In 2015 and 2016 he was tutor in Fine Art (Performance) at the Royal College of Art in London. More recently he has been Guestprofessor for Drawing and Painting at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Kuenste in Karlsruhe.
Fiona Finnegan (*1979) is a painter who graduated with an MFA distinction from Ulster University in 2009 and is currently living and working in Belfast. She received a BA Hons in Music and Visual Practice in 2001 at the University of Brighton. She has recently has a solo exhibition at Domobaal, London, group shows include the Creekside Open 2017 at A.P.T Gallery London, selected by Jordan Baseman and the Creekside Open 2017 selected by Alison Wilding; Presently, Millennium Court Arts Centre, Portadown, 2014; The Surreal in Irish Art, F.E. Mc William Gallery, Banbridge and The Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda, Ireland in 2011 and was selected for The Threadneedle Prize Exhibition, Mall Galleries, London in 2010. Her paintings are included in the public collections of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the University of Ulster, Belfast.
With thanks to Dr. Jane Hamilton-Whatling