The Chase and The Ambushing

The Chase and the Ambush is opening 9 March at Hereford Museum

Here is a text about the exhibition by Matt Price

The Chase and The Ambush

Sally Payen’s paintings and drawings in The Chase and The Ambush capture scenes of civil unrest, rioting and protest – members of the public in urban contexts that range from domestic environments to civic spaces, retail areas to business districts. Whether legitimate protests turning sour, looters out on the streets, or simply passers-by who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, the members of the public depicted are usually only a stone’s throw away from the riot police, who are either on patrol expecting imminent trouble or are actively dealing with disturbances and pursuing troublemakers.

Alongside these cityscapes recounting urban tales of confrontation between the public and the authorities is a series of paintings of bankers, standing in dark suits and ties against abstract backgrounds. This suggests that Payen’s interests extend beyond representations of civil unrest into the social, political and economic factors at work behind such incidents. “I am more interested in the notion of democracy than in the conflict itself,” says Payen, “which I try to explore through narratives that are both personal and yet public”. Often constructed using a variety of sources from the media such as newspaper images, CCTV footage and video clips, Payen’s compositions hover between figurative imagery and abstract painterly language, creating works that are strangely dreamlike and explore our sense of time and physical space within painting.

Payen has also selected a number of works from the permanent collections of both Hereford Museum and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to display alongside her own paintings, making interesting connections between the works. These connections might be thematic, such as in the mid-nineteenth-century countryside ambush scene by Eugenio Lucas, the early nineteenth-century panorama of Bristol after the riots by William James Müller, or the allegory of misrule by Johann Georg Platzer from 1720. They might equally be formal connections, such as the handling of paint in John Walker’s Kew from 2006 in which figurative imagery almost disappears entirely into abstraction, or the limited palette and economy of means in Jack Smith’s painting of a baby walking awkwardly next to a chair from 1954.

The Chase and The Ambush is an exhibition that looks at pressing issues in contemporary society and how painting can respond to them today, whilst simultaneously forming a dialogue with history and how artists in the past have chosen to depict the subjects of their day.


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