Saturday, 18 February 2017

Part I: Street Semiotics

Florian Heinke, Sam Jackson, Kate Lyddon, Hugh Mendes, Alex Gene Morrison, Mitra Saboury, Hendrik Zimmer

Curated by Zavier Ellis

CHARLIE SMITH LONDON introduces the first in a trilogy of interconnected exhibitions. The first includes artists who draw on the city to inform their work. The second – ‘The Turning World’ - will explore the relationship between historical and contemporary landscape painting, and its relevance. The third exhibition – ‘Interiority’ – will investigate interiors and specifically their psychological resonance. During the first exhibition, David Hancock, Director of PAPER in Manchester, will curate a dialogic show of work on paper called Semiotic Guerrilla Warfare part IV’ in the back room, consisting of over thirty artists.   

Street Semiotics includes British, German and American artists working in painting, video and sculptural installation who engage with the city environment, from street culture to its physicality to its populous.     

Florian Heinke is known for his paintings that alternate between political polemics and transcendental beauty. Combining text and image only in black acrylic on unprimed canvas, Heinke investigates contemporary and modern politics; popular culture; celebrity; glamour beauty and decay. He is known for aggressive statements and uncompromising subject matter that is underpinned by the poetic and contemplative. The use of text in both German and English; an absorption of advertising techniques; and a clash of imagery derived from various sources coalesce to reference high, low and mass culture. 

Sam Jackson makes instinctively guttural, intimate portraits. His subjects are often covered with text that recalls street sub-culture in the form of rough, homemade tattoos and graffiti. The raw urgency and do-it-yourself attitudes imbedded within the punk and skinhead movements transfer onto Jackson’s work in combination with an embracing of beauty and the historical. The text represents a cognitive statement and a definitive point of reference while the subjects themselves project a sense of contemplative melancholy. 

Kate Lyddon is motivated by her immediate environment; human behaviour and interaction; the human form; clothing; the surreality of existence; and the absurd. Her sculptural installation evolves intuitively through formal experimentationresulting in figure and object combinations that are simultaneously familiar and otherworldly. Dressed in streetwear and made from everyday materials including foam, polystyrene and handmade ceramic elements, whilst also referring to ancient mythologies and fairytales, Lyddon’s displaced, disrupted, disfigured subjects avoid definition and suggest rather a slippage between disparate eras, locations and narratives.         

Hugh Mendes makes trompe l’oeil paintings that operate simultaneously as portrait and still-life. Initially inspired by a piece of fluttering newspaper that blew against his foot, Mendes went onto relentlessly make paintings after newspaper obituaries and political articles, often about the war on terror. ‘G20 Killing’ recalls the unlawful killing of newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson by a police officer during the G20 protests of 2009. Mendes reminds us that the city streets bear witness to continuous and multiple events on a daily basis, from the inconsequential to the fundamental.        

Alex Gene Morrison’s images of skulls, forests, monsters, heads and totemic abstract forms call to mind the primitive and tribal and suggest a kind of street anthropology. Signifiers of fire and internal or electrical energy convey thoughts of destruction, transformation and re-animation via elemental forces. His obsessions with sub-cultural visual genres including horror and sci-fi 
movies; video games; streetwear design; and alternative music, combine to inform his unique worldview that is communicated using mixed media painting, collage and video animation. 

Mitra Saboury’s work investigates the impact of the built environment on the human body. Using performance, video and installation, Saboury attempts to reclaim the city by interacting with its cracks, crevices, potholes and other negative spaces. She confronts and overcomes the physical restriction and confinement of architectural perimeters by employing her body in unexpected ways. There is a peculiar intimacy to Saboury’s repetitive actions which suggests a fetishization of the moribund, imperfect and commonplace. 

Hendrik Zimmer works in the traditions of collage and décollage in combination with mixed painting and printing techniques. His complex surfaces directly reference those of the urban environment, including collage elements derived from posters that Zimmer has ripped from street hoardings. There is an immediate and multifaceted aspect to his work that echoes the frenetic nature of experiencing the city environment. Weathered and textured surfaces are analogous to the passing of time that can be measured in traces and patterns on walls and doors, recording the acting out of lives in the city, and angular, geometric patterns tell us that this is not a place of nature, but of the man made.       

Semiotic Guerrilla Warfare part IV 
Curated by David Hancock 

Hermione Allsopp / Jemima Brown / Andrea Cotton / Lisa Denyer / Tracey Eastham / David Hancock / Florian Heinke / Phill Hopkins / Hilde Krohn Huse / Sam Jackson / Monica Ursina Jäger / Vincent James / Chris Jones / Richard Meaghan / Alex Gene Morrison / Narbi Price / Mitra Saboury / Jenny Steele / Pär Strömberg / Zhu Tian / Lisa Wilkens / Simon Woolham / Hannah Wooll / THE CULT OF RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣfeaturing YangYounghee 

Semiotic Guerrilla Warfare is an ongoing collaboration between CHARLIE SMITH LONDON and PAPER, presented previously at PAPER, Manchester and Dean Clough, Halifax. The artists assembled create artwork from any materials that come to hand, creating a theoretical collage of themes: linguistics, text, the city, psychogeography, found images, appropriation, underground culture, cults and rituals. Exploring popular culture in an attempt to de-value the art object and elevate everyday objects, Semiotic Guerrilla Warfare presents found objects, mass-produced materials and lo-fi aesthetics to create a new visual language that comments upon the disposable nature of our culture and society. 

The purchase of commodities can be seen to offer a sense of freedom and an escape. By manipulating and appropriating high street fashions, youth subcultures create a unique identity and transform themselves into street art. These concepts might be equally applied to artists, who use appropriation to subvert the meaning of the subjects that they transform. This creative use of commodities is exploited for the purpose of resistance, altering the meaning of a chosen mass produced object through the concept of bricolage. This cultural appropriation or theft, and transformation of a commodity, highlights each of these artists as conspicuous consumers. Dick Hebdige, the subcultural theorist, quoting Umberto Eco, describes these subversive practices as “semiotic guerrilla warfare” - raiding the dominant culture for their trophies. These commodities are desired simply because they are status symbols of the privileged. They are essentially “empty fetishes”, desired and appropriated from those that are their antithesis. These artists employ their visual language to subvert the meaning of the very images they incorporate into their work.  

Please contact gallery for images and further information 

Young Gods: Year 10 | 2016

Sara Berman, David Bethell, Javier Torras Casas, Sarah Fortais, MC Llamas, Jessica Lynn Schlobohm, Claire Undy, Hauyu Yang

CHARLIE SMITH LONDON was delighted to present the tenth edition of Young Gods.
Curated by Zavier Ellis, Young Gods is an annual presentation of graduate and post graduate artists working in all media selected from London art schools. This year’s exhibition included painting, installation, sculpture, video and work on paper by artists from Central St Martins, City & Guilds, Goldsmiths, the Slade, Royal Academy Schools and Wimbledon.

Sara Berman (MA Fine Art, Slade School of Fine Art) is the singular painter in this exhibition. Her work depicts female figures integrated into domestic interiors. Stylised, contorted human forms correspond to furniture and objects, suggesting that one is becoming the other and are inseparable from each other. Patterning is used variously as foreground, background, underpainting or imprinting, signifying further fusion between figure and environment. Recalling at once Matisse, Hockney and Katz, there are undoubtedly aspirational lifestyle overtones to Berman’s work. Considerations of commerce and consumerism; objects of desire; and curated lifestyles are clear, and are presented within an intriguing, constructed framework that illustrates a clear investigation into the nature of figurative painting.  

Naked Yoga | 2016 | Oil on linen | 120x160cm


David Bethell (MA Fine Art, Central Saint Martins) constructs objects that represent working machines such as boats or trains, with which he attempts to undergo a specific journey. Hand crafted using basic materials, the object will inevitably disintegrate as it fails to withstand the rigours of weather and landscape acting upon it‘Then Here Now’ is a train that Bethell built to attempt a journey by dragging it approximately eight miles along a stretch of an old Staffordshire rail line that once served quarries and kilns. The performance is filmed and shown as part of the work, integrated with the remnants of the train. Bethell accentuates that such undertakings emphasise the process of making a journey and its resultant narrative, and in doing so investigates hope, aspiration, failure, futility, endurance and progress.   

Then Here Now (From Wood to Ash to Birds) | 2016 | Mixed media | Dimensions variable


Sarah Fortais (PhD Practice-led, Slade School of Fine Art) makes bricolage animal sculptures that investigate the hierarchy of objects, and their transformation from one thing to another. The ‘Spacesuits for animals’ series is a direct response to her research on space travel: “I am interested in how NASA developed spacesuits leading up to the Apollo 11 moon mission. The ingenuity of recombining already existing materials allowed NASA to create a spacesuit with new properties which in turn extended human experience into unknown territories.” Each animal – in this exhibition a red stag – exists in a long term state of evolution. Fortais’ practice is dependent on materials at hand, and her works are constructed both in the studio and during performances when exhibited.  



MC Llamas (BA (Hons) Fine Art, City & Guilds of London Art School) makes small scale fictional portraits using a combination of marker pen, chalk and charcoal on gridded paperThe subjects are remembered art world people that Llamas knows or has met during her going outs in London. Llamas seeks to reveal an emotional truth by employing aggressive, angular mark making, and by relying on memory she embraces the slippages and ambiguities inherent within the faculty. There is a distinct psychological charge that is generated by her urgent, geometric depictions of stripped away, interior structures. Conceived to be shown as a group, Llamas intends to represent an idea of a portrait or person rather than a portrait in itself, investigating similarity as well as difference. In doing so, she is inadvertently exploring the self, as well as the other.       

Graffiti Head (one of series) | 2016 | Marker pen on paper | 21x13cm


Jessica Lynn Schlobohm (MFA Fine Art, Goldsmiths) makes sculptural installation that combines interests in mythology, symbolism, embodiment and materialitySchlobohm’s totemic objects directly reference primitive devotional objects. Presented in a gallery context, these objects (or artefacts) draw a line through deep time from a suggested place of ritualistic worship to the museological. Each piece is finely crafted from alternative, every day materials including baseball leather, cigarettes, cigars or pig intestine. This subtle undermining of expectation combines the magical and mythological with the contemporary, and utilises materials derived from popular American culture, creating an intelligent interplay between high and low; real and imagined; primitive and modern; symbolic and literal.   

nine innings (sketch for a figure) | 2016 | Used baseball leather, cotton stitching, brass tacks | 68x17x9cm

untitled hanging venus (sketch for a figure) | 2016 | Partially unwoven vintage hemp, brass tacks | 133x36x15cm
bandolier | 2016 | Imported cigars (Cuban), gross-grain ribbon, mercerised cotton stitching | 71x13x8cm


Javier Torras Casas (MA Painting, Wimbledon College of Art) makes large scale sculptural installation from natural and industrial materials including steel, bronze, clay, plaster, wax and rope that delicately utilises structure and balance. A central tenet within Torras Casas’ work is the relationship between human bodies and natural matter. Cast hands and manipulated clumps of clay suggest the continuous organic changes produced in nature as well as the development of human communicative capacitiesand illustrate the materiality of objects and their inter-connectedness with the human body. Torras Casas questions the effect of nature on human evolution and vice versa, referencing the passage of time through his manipulation of temporal and permanent, natural and man-made materials.    





Matter Mutation | 2016 | Bronze, clay, wax, steel, rope | Dimensions variable

Claire Undy (Postgraduate Diploma Fine Art, Royal Academy Schools) makes work in various forms that is based on the recording and documentation of performance. This might be video, posters, postcards or flipbooks. Undy’s performances are distinctively dramatic, and might be absurd, poignant and / or futile. This sense of pathos is deployed to make art about art, questioning notions of authorship, meaning and methodology: “I love the idea that an artist has some sort of mystical power - the ability to turn an ordinary action or object into ‘art' at their command! However, I’m also suspicious of this power”. Undy’s aesthetic is stripped back despite being complex and multi-layered both in process and intention.   

Shoes | 2016 | Performance video (7m, ed.3) | Dimensions variable



Hauyu Yang (BA (Hons) Fine Art, Central Saint Martins) works in performance, photography and video. His practice is informed by the 800km Camino de Santiago pilgrimage which he undertook in 2014. During the journey, which was not made for any religious or political significance, Yang began to observe human behaviour and interaction. Specifically, he noted the common good luck greeting “Buen Camino!”, and became engaged with repetitive procedures that exist in societies, which represent social conformities and inter-relational positivism. Such rituals are reconfigured and exaggerated in Yang’s work, such as the passing of water from mouth to mouth in his performance / video ‘Fluid Internationality’. The water symbolises conversation, and its nebulous fluidity refers to the incomplete nature of communication when conversing between languages.

Fluid Intentionality | 2016 | Performance video (4m 22s, ed.5) | Dimensions variable

Daily Meeting | 2016 | C-type photograph on aluminium (ed.10) | 84.1x59.4cm

Installation Images | Charlie Smith London