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Another Country: London Painters in Dialogue with Modern Italian Art

Tony Bevan. Head Horizon, 2009. Oil on canvas. 85 x 121 cm.

Exhibition preview

ANOTHER Country: London Painters in Dialogue with Modern Italian Art, an exhibition of works by ten highly respected London-based artists, will be on display at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art from April 28 to June 20, 2010.

The artists have formed a group based on friendship rather than any shared style or technique, and have shown together previously at a group show held in Italy in 2007 curated by Lino Mannocci.

For this exhibition, each member of the group has opened a visual dialogue with a particular artist represented in the Estorick Collection or, in the case of Ida Barbarigo and Filippo de Pisis, closely connected to those represented.

The approaches taken by these artists to the project have been varied. Despite exhibiting together in Italy and the fact that two of the artists (Lino Mannocci and Arturo Di Stefano) are Italian by birth or parentage, the link between them and their chosen interlocutor is often understated.

Each of the painters involved has written a text for the exhibition catalogue exploring their relationship with the twentieth-century Italian artist they have chosen; these links are explored further by Brendan Prendeville of Goldsmiths College, University of London, in his catalogue essay.

Tony Bevan, who has chosen Giorgio Morandi, is one of today’s leading figurative painters. His focus on the vulnerability of the human body and frequent use of his own body in his painting allies him to such artists as Georg Baselitz, Philip Guston and Arnulf Rainer. Recently he has also focused on abstracted architectural subjects such as corridors, rafters and stacked furniture, which often have a disturbing, uncomfortable presence.

Arturo Di Stefano‘s paintings – drawing on literary references as diverse as The Odyssey and The Wasteland – engage in a dialogue with the past while remaining contemporary in method and execution. From mythological subjects to unpeopled cityscapes, the world he presents is one of haunting power.

Arcades and corridors are recurring themes in his work, as are holy relics; they project a silent emblematic presence while also containing an enigmatic narrative quality. Di Stefano has also chosen Giorgio Morandi as his ‘friendship’ for this exhibition.

Luke Elwes (Zoran Music) came to prominence in the early 1990s with a series of exhibitions resulting from his travels to remote regions, and his paintings are both a distillation of that experience and a reflection on the passage of time and the trace of history. His work documents the inner experience of his journeys by exploring the memories which surface through the act of painting, a process which, for Elwes, is ‘a continuous process of loss and recovery’.

The paintings and drawings of Timothy Hyman (Mario Sironi) create a personal mythology of London, where he grew up and continues to live. In compositions of visual and narrative complexity, echoes of Lorenzetti’s Well-Governed City may coexist with the carnivalesque excess of Gillray and Ensor, and the self-interrogation of Beckmann. Hyman has also worked periodically in India, closely associated with Bhupen Khakhar and the painters of the Baroda School.

Andrzej Jackowski‘s paintings and drawings make poetic spaces for and out of memories and desires. In his poetic canvases people, objects, animals and buildings become containers, places of temporary refuge. They are places that not only evoke the past but also define and give form to the present. Jackowski’s chosen artist is Carlo Carrà.

The work of Merlin James (Medardo Rosso) has been described as ‘post-avant-garde painting’ and his thematic approach is highly diverse: erotic figuration; land- sea- and skyscape; various conditions of abstraction; interior and exterior architecture; references and echoes from past art.

This multiplicity is not, however, the result of any conceptual project, and he has repeatedly affirmed the work’s intuitive nature and underlying coherence as painting. Collage and cutting-out are frequently employed, and his concern with the physicality of the painting is always paramount; each is its own physical world.

Glenys Johnson (Ida Barbarigo) was initially involved in performance art as well as painting, touring in the late 1970s with the Theatre of Mistakes. In 1989, she had a solo show at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in London and since then has exhibited widely in the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia.

Her works of the 1980s were often politically charged and she has frequently addressed life in the modern metropolis, as in the recent monochrome canvases that universalise the cityscape of London and present the city as a place in flux, either on the point of growth or collapse.

Alex Lowery (Filippo de Pisis) examines the expressive possibilities open to a contemporary figurative painter. He is best known for the series of over 200 paintings that focus on the small channel port of West Bay in Dorset. The results are abstracted, enigmatic, and deceptively simple and understated.

Lowery draws on traditions of landscape painting as well as diverse contemporary and historic influences, ranging from Alex Katz to Morandi, from Corot to Dutch 17th century painting. Recently Lowery has worked from the island of Portland, and on the west coast of Ireland following a 2008 residency in County Mayo.

The paintings and prints of Lino Mannocci (Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà) have strong roots in the Italian Novecento while their distinctive narrative quality is informed by his love of literature and mythology. His transient subjects – sea, smoke, clouds – are realised with minimal means: a range of whites, soft blues and browns. His surfaces, always pared down to the simplest forms, are luminous and elegiac.

Thomas Newbolt‘s paintings, usually centred on the human figure, have a physical urgency that evokes a powerful response in the viewer. His raw energetic forms, often worked from life, are steeped in historical and literary references, and draw in particular on the expressive figuration of Rembrandt, Goya, Daumier and Beckman. Newbolt’s chosen artist is Marino Marini.

The exhibition represents a coming together of cultures. It highlights both the parochial nature of much of painting’s vocabulary and, by contrast, its universal accessibility. As Brendan Prendeville says in his introduction to the exhibition catalogue:

“It is in painting that the transforming power of art is most evident, for it can draw on what we might – if we follow Richard Wollheim – regard as a natural and universal faculty for seeing something as other than it is… Accepting that this potential in painting is universal, we might encapsulate its ‘Italian’ realisation in an aphorism: painting takes us to another country.”

Admission: £5, concessions £3.50, includes permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. Free to under-16s and students on production of a valid NUS card. Library, by appointment only, £2.50 per visit.

Times: Wednesday to Saturday from 11am to 6pm. Sunday 12 to 5pm. Late night opening: Thursdays until 8pm. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Shop: open gallery hours. Library: by appointment only.

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, 39a Canonbury Square, London, N1 2AN

Tel: +44 (0)20 7704 9522

Another Country Gallery