I really like the Haunch of Venison’s Eastcastle Gallery.
Each time I’ve been in there, there’s a really great show on, and I can just enjoy the work. I’ve also always felt the staff to be friendly and open (not always a given in Central London galleries).
The show on there at the moment by Justin Mortimer is quite a beautiful show. Mortimer is a painter and, although I have a dysfunctional relationship with painting, this work (and other work of his I’ve seen recently) reminds me why the love exists in that love-hate relationship.
I also feel like Mortimer is addressing a new aesthetic in painting that I haven’t really noticed until now. That aesthetic is something that was actually brought in by photography – something that I call the Vice Mag/Richardson aesthetic. It’s one that, within the context of photography and media arts, I loathe. I cannot stand it and friends know not to mention Terry Richardson in my company if they don’t have 10 minutes to listen to me rant violently.
However, the translation of that harsh, party-party-fuck-me-i’m young-and-sinister look – its framing, lighting and composition – translates really well into painting. Especially in the hands of Mortimer.
The slightly-detached position that painting affords a dark subject, using contemporary settings, naked youth, stark lighting allows these symbols and meaning of the work to filter through. The wasted youth aspect of the characters in Mortimers paintings are not People I Might Know as they are in Vice mag photo shoots (which is part of my problem with them). In these paintings, they become figures doing actions that i need to pay attention to. They aren’t as directly accessible anymore, so provoke me as a viewer to pay attention.
And yet these scenarios are those that are very much occurring right now. The inbuilt-camera-flash type of lighting contrast (different to actual chiaroscuro), the RGB monitor skin-tones, the urban backgrounds and ‘no pics it didn’t happen‘ style of framing are all those I’ve seen online for the last 5 years.
This is not the 20th Century I’m looking at, here.
What I also like about these works is that they’re not trying to portray a life I might aspire to, but are not sanctimonious or baroque in codemnation. They’re gritty – possibly depraved – without taking themselves too seriously, and light without being glib (criticisms I have of other media using similar treatment). They’re symbolic, but not so overloaded that they’re confusing; realistic without being self-centered or mind-numbingly autobiographical.
And the great thing is that they don’t look as good in the book. They’re made to be paintings. They’re intended to be experienced as a discreet object, not just an image or a shorthand version of them.
I have issues with paintings that become photographs far too easily – they lose the essence of why using goopy, messy, expensive materials matter. Mortimers works, although drawing from photomedia, are not photos. They’re not even potential photos. They’re solid pieces of shimmering oil that have depth and movement and firmness all at once.
I’m going to go back several times for this one.
image credit: Haunch of Venison’s website
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