Thursday, 2 March 2017

Painters, painters, and painters.

Despite the fact the Saatchi Gallery has been based just off the Kings Road in Chelsea for nearly a decade now my visit on Monday was the first time I'd been in. I'd previously attended exhibitions at both former homes, Boundary Road and County Hall, but never there.

Their Painters' Painters show was free to enter but you had to be pay £1 if you wanted a guide. It seemed easy enough to navigate the vast, spacious rooms without one so I saved myself a quid. Of the nine artists showing I'd only previously heard of two. David Salle (whose joint show at the Per Skarstedt with Cindy Sherman I wrote about last November) and Dexter Dalwood. I wasn't quite sure how I'd heard of Dalwood but I had. I think his pleasingly alliterative name helped me remember him.

So at least it was a chance to assess some new work baggage free. Each artist had been given their own room so in many ways it was like attending nine separate exhibitions without having to walk round in the cold and wet between them.

First up was Los Angeles' Raffi Kalendarian. Spirit Guides and Sunflowers (2008, below) had some of the cheeky naivety of the French post-impressionist Henri Rousseau whilst Gwendolyn (from the same year) utilised a more sombre, reflective palate.


They were pleasant enough. I certainly preferred them to the work of Richard Aldrich. Another American artist (born Virginia, works in Brooklyn) who uses wood and pot plants in his 'paintings'. Boy With Machines (2007) seemed pretty ugly to me and the inscrutable face wasn't as impressive as similar works I'd seen recently at Peter Liversidge's recent Kate MacGarry show.

Much better was the work of Dexter Dalwood. The Bristolian was once a member of punk band The Cortinas. I owned their Heartache/Ask Mr Waverley on 7" single but they were better known for their Step Forward release Fascist Dictator in 1977. This should be enough to tell you that Dalwood is no longer a young guy but, never mind, this show makes no claim to be shining the spotlight on either young, or new, artists. Just painters. And their paintings. The clue's in the title.

Rather good ones in the case of Dalwood. Some of his works had echoes of Clyfford Still (a star of the RA's recent blockbuster Abstract Expressionism show). A couple, Brian Jones' Swimming Pool and Kurt Cobain's Greenhouse (2000, below) mined the very world of music you might've thought Dalwood left behind in the late seventies. The bold splashes of colour were not dissimilar to a Patrick Caulfield and 2006's The Deluge had hints of Roy Lichtenstein in its brushwork. I'm sure the inclusion of Seattle's space needle, reminding me of last year's wonderful trip to that city (in which I mistakenly called it the Sky Needle, only helped cement my appreciation of Dalwood's work.

I was less enamoured with the paintings of Martin Maloney. A year younger than Dalwood Maloney claims to deliberately practice bad painting which seems like a very handy excuse if you can't do good painting. Truth be told they're not even that bad. Just a bit lame. I'm a big fan of not letting go of our childlike sense of wonder but I sensed that Maloney was simply being aloof, haughty, and laughing at people he felt didn't have the same taste as him. It's very much the kind of attitude that puts people off visiting art galleries.

Back in America David Salle's work seems concerned with much weightier subject matter. Not that I'm clear what that is exactly. They're certainly good to look at though. Charles Mingus and Dean Martin rubbed shoulders with angels (Mr Lucky, 1998) and cyclicts (Angels in the Rain, 1998 also). The juxtapositions seem to be pretty random but I'd wager that Salle spends quite a long time pondering what goes where and why. If there is a greater meaning to his work I certainly can't decipher it but on a purely aesthetic level I was charmed.

As I was by the fantastically named Ansel Krut. A South African who practices in London Krut's Shattered Man (2010) works Cubism into a riot of competing colour then, with Mussels (2012), shows his results can be equally easy on the eye when using a (slightly) more muted selection of colours.

Bjarne Melgaard wasn't aiming for 'easy on the eye'. His daubings were overlaid with slogans like COCK, DEATH OF A HOOKER, and, er, KURTIS BLOW! The New York based Norwegian obviously seeks to disturb and if he falls a little short on that he does at least manage to amuse with his slight coarseness and anarchic application of oil. The untitled works were part of a series from 2007 that used almost hallucinatory colour, large heads, and scribbles to make very little point at all except 'look at us'. That's fine though. I did.

Ryan Mosley's another who likes to make you stop and stare. Emperor Butterfly (2007) wouldn't be too far out of place alongside the works of James Ensor while the hat clad urinator in Heavy Bouquet (2011) looks like that artist's work reimagined by The Mighty Boosh.

Last up are the fluorescent sheep and swirling clouds of David Brian Smith (from Wolverhampton). They look like high end hippy posters and their titles (My Soul Hath Them In Remembrance And Is Humbled In Me II, 2011 and Gainsborough Farm, 2014) don't do anything to shake those fears off. As a younger man I'd have loathed this kind of thing. I'm still not entirely convinced that they don't belong in Athena (or whatever has replaced Athena these days) alongside a tennis player scratching her bum but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. They're colourful. They're a distraction. But they're far from the best thing here.

It's seen as a bit infra dig to judge art as a competition but as a person not from the art world I'm going to do so in this case. The way they laid the works out kind of pushed me towards it anyway. I'll place Bjarne Melgaard's lurid grotesques third, hand the silver award to Dexter Dalwood, and place a garland round the neck of Ansel Krut. None of the art was terrible but none was wildly original. I felt Krut utilised the past in the most interesting and, this is actually important, attractive way. I look forward to seeing his, and some of the others, art again in the future.

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