No-one Lives in the Real World at the Standpoint Gallery N1 Sasha Bowles et al
Tom Butler at the Charlie Smith Gallery
A rare foray into the twilight throng of private views led us to Hoxton this evening. It was a long pilgrimage as we were driving from the West End at 7 p.m. Highly inadvisable, but one of us didn’t want to get wet. The welter of activity does not diminish heading east, but it does take on a different character, especially in the evening. There is, even to my jaded eye, a little hint of freedom in the air. The usual urban nonsense as well of course, but also the faintest promise that something new and exciting might lie around any corner waiting to be discovered.
We caught two shows with some common ground and some differences. At the Standpoint – a converted ground floor industrial space – there was a group show featuring a number of artists including Sasha Bowles…declaration of interest – we (that is Mrs Eyeball and myself), own two of Sasha’s pictures and we like them very much! Sasha’s work was delightfully hung in a gated lift. There was a lot of other work too, but the crowd was too thick for me to really see it. At the Charlie Smith gallery a much more mellow space upstairs above the Reliance pub there was a solo show of molested Edwardian photographs. The private view there was in full swing and the red dots were flying. The gallerist looked ecstatic, as far as one can behind a beard the size of a small dog.
Both of these artists were showing paintings executed over other images. Painting on photographs, printed images and indeed other paintings has a long history, but I have never really got on with it until recently. I guess (without googling) that it was the Dadaists (probably Picabia) who originated it. But now it seems more apposite since images are as plentiful as leaves and as easy to come by as blank pieces of paper. More so even. But not all over-paintings are equal. Some have a positive character I think, others negative.
Sometimes over-painting is a trivial defacement (often literally as in the case of the Chapman brothers’ ‘one day you will no longer be loved‘ series). This is a simple act of taking an image of the past and vandalising it as if to say: that is what whoever made this cared about or was paid to care about, but it’s not important anymore, I would rather look at a cube, or a mutilated version of your face etc. This is essentially nihilistic and destructive and after the first smirk of amusement they serve only as reminders that we would rather destroy the past than understand it. Which is fine in a way but we are not really replacing it with anything, so we have to keep destroying unique artefacts to make us seem as creative as we feel. Tom Butler is in this camp, I fear. Not as bad as the Taliban blowing up Buddha statues, but going along the same path.
Sasha’s overpainting on the other hand seems to me to be an altogether more positive enterprise. By carefully choosing seductively familiar but not obvious art works and then painstakingly painting over (in this case) miniature reproductions of them in a way that feels at once part of the original and a subversive intervention. Using a reproduction, only the idea of the image has been altered. The original still exists for you to look at whenever you choose to wake from the dream of fairy fungus and phantom draperies that have sprouted in Sasha’s versions. It is a dialogue with one’s memory of an image and one’s sense of how it could have been, could become. And that, to me, is a fascinating way of creating tension in a world impossibly saturated by imagery.