Archives for the month of: October, 2010

Grief and Oblivion

Extract from text by Matt Price

Violence and battles are also central to the recent works of painter Sally Payen. In a major new oil painting created for the exhibition, He had to run to save himself from oblivion, yet through running he forgets himself (2010) Payen brings together a plethora of imagery taken from urban riots – some from Birmingham, some from Brighton, others from Northern Ireland. Masked rioters brandishing improvised weapons confront riot police on horseback, while shadowy figures are engaged in a number of incidents and episodes around them. Painted in a muted palette of greys with the slightest washes of yellow, blue and red, the figurative elements of the painting teeter on the edge of abstraction, merging with the architecture suggested behind – some brick-like forms, some arches receding into the right hand corner, and some railings or barriers that penetrate the action. It is a dreamlike scene, a collage of half-remembered vignettes from newspapers, TV and the Internet, capturing a sense of the breakdown of law and order that must be experienced in the midst of civil unrest. Payen’s accomplished painting brings a refined vocabulary of brush marks and textures to calculated yet naïve, stylized forms. The painting speaks of something primordial within civilisation, of primitive instincts being played out in late capitalist society and of the aggressive underbelly of (a largely patriarchal) democracy.

Whilst being a very modern painting, that it is influenced by the history of painting and of battle scenes is made clear by the accompanying oil on gesso work Battle, after Uccello (2010) – a small though highly animated painting of a partially masked figure poised to throw a short pole or stake of some kind at a mounted policeman. The reference to Paolo Uccello’s 15th-century masterpiece at the National Gallery, The Battle of San Romano (sometimes referred to as The Rout of San Romano) connects Payen’s contemporary scenes of rioting to Niccolò da Tolentino leading Florentine cavalry against the army of Siena. Another piece by Payen, also entitled Battle, after Uccello (2010) depicts just the policeman on horseback, rendered with a remarkable economy of painterly means – just a small number of carefully executed brush strokes evoking all of the drama, movement, and physicality of the horseman under attack.

It is drama, movement and physicality in the heat of a riot that are the focus of Payen’s two paintings The Fear (2010), depicting groups of young men marauding through the streets. Viewed close-up and from slightly above, as if from CCTV cameras, the aggression and tension is palpable, the men looking about them with an overriding air of menace. They could be football hooligans, they might be G8 protesters or this could be a scene from the Troubles – they could, in fact, be mobilised by any number of social or political causes to have hit the headlines in recent years. And should a riot lead to revolution, they could be laying the foundations for the vacuum of power that almost inevitably ensues in such circumstances, resulting in familiar scenes of anarchy, looting and violence until authority is restored or a new power established. A number of ink and vellum works by the artist depict scenes of rioting in sharper detail, the face of a police dog staring out at the viewer, a young man weighing up his chances against an unseen target. Payen’s works delve into the subconscious of urban violence, bringing the history of battles and their depiction into the present with both gravity and grace.




TROVE presents:

Grief and Oblivion

Sally Payen, Viv Sole and Jane Tudge

Curated by Matt Price and Charlie Levine

Preview: 15th October 2010 6-9pm

Open: 16th, 23rd and 30th October 2-5pm

TROVE Newhall Square, 144 Newhall Street, Birmingham, B3 1RZ


The Kubler-Ross Model details five stages of grief; in grief one will experience, in this order, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance; but what after acceptance?

Sally Payen, Viv Sole and Jane Tudge explore these five stages as well as the non-verbalised ones at either side.  Grief and Oblivion is an exhibition combining for the first time these West Midland based artists, all three of whom examine and reflect the ideas surrounding grief.

Sally’s paintings directly represent press images from famous riot scenes in both Birmingham and Northern Ireland.  These paintings are not just, however, re-presentations, rather their deeper resonance lies in Sally’s approach.  Working within the confines of a subtle grid formation Sally departmentalises the scenes within the whole, the paintings not just exploring a scene, rather exposing an emotion of trying to ‘run away; to forget everything.’  The denial within her work is evident in the ghostly figures, grey tones and blurred edges, the ghosts of grief rather than a direct confrontation.   The short flashes of red and yellows within the paintings hint at the anger within the aggressive subject matter, completing the second of the five stages.

Viv, with her works foundation being a response to her mother’s Alzheimer’s disease, hints towards bargaining.  Metamorphosis is a symbolic countdown towards oblivion, cocoon-like Russian dolls lead to the release of a butterfly-the symbol of the soul in many cultures.  The butterfly is a motif used in much of Viv’s work, her altered books, and in the Wreath series. The materials chosen in the creation of butterflies for each wreath brings their own story, little boys camouflage trousers and worn Afghan soldier uniform, or bandages and slings.  Another key piece is a bowl of tears made from soap, which for me links all of Viv’s stirring and emotional pieces by its simple symbol of grief and depression.

Finally this leaves acceptance.  Jane’s Madeleines cans hold individual memories from Jane herself, as well as people who have seen the work previously; the cans, she says, ‘catch memories which are then held in a supermarket of the mind.’  In Jane’s other work there is an air of ‘what if.’ Acceptance turned into appreciation of what is left, after her car overturned earlier this year, Jane began to question her mortality and in return her immortality, what is kept of a person once they have passed?  This is a continuance and refinement in her work that has resulted in her wanting to contain memory and keep in a tin, tied in a box or set in wax for forever. |