Thursday, 13 December 2018

Tom Butler | Ensemble | Nov - Dec 2018

‘In spite of their unearthly strangeness I had a feeling that there was something familiar about them.’ William Hope Hodgson, The Crew of the Lancing, 1914

CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is delighted to present Tom Butler’s third solo exhibition at the gallery.

‘Ensemble’ will include three bodies of work. In addition to Butler’s ongoing series of painted cabinet cards, for which he is most recognised, the exhibition will represent the London debut of two new photographic series. Conveying a fascination with photographic portraiture from the medium’s earliest phases, combined with an enquiry into Victorian Gothic literature, and specifically its tendency to describe the body as liable to ruin, shape changing or re-assemblage, Butler continues to make beguiling, uncanny images. 

In ’Ten Elmers’, Butler has collected ten identical cabinet cards in order to work on the same image with various motifs. In doing so, he suggests identities are characterized by embellishment, but also by what remains unadorned. The performative self-portrait ‘Figure’ series adopts a similar strategy. By using a remote-control shutter release and black fabric to mask most of his body, Butler creates images that are determined predominantly by what is concealed, rather than revealed. In his ‘Homunculi’ series, Butler directly references Gothic and alchemical tropes. In contrast to the shrouded ‘Figure’ photographs, Butler combines multiple images of his own exposed body parts to create singular, abject self-portraits.

Taken together, this fascinating body of work is far more revelatory than Butler’s previous canon, elucidating on the body as an objectification of self. The physical transformation of body or body elements renders the subject ambiguous by obscuring its identity, whilst infusing it with disquieting psychological resonance.  

Peter Ashton Jones | Blind Man's Buff | Oct - Nov 2018

CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is pleased to present Peter Ashton Jones’ first solo exhibition at the gallery, curated by Jemima Rose.

The exhibition title refers to the traditional parlour game that has been played throughout generations, and is associated most notably with the Victorian era. Latterly known as Blind Man’s Bluff, Ashton Jones introduces ideas around wordplay, linguistic evolution, and slippages between fact and fiction from the outset. Buff is an old English word meaning tag or touch, and Ashton Jones uses his interpretation of the game and its semantic implications to create a framework that informs his reasoning and decision making when creating this series. He simultaneously refers to the relationship between artist and audience.

In broad terms, Ashton Jones begins with the traditional notion of landscape painting being a window on to the world. His landscapes refer to real places in West Sussex where he grew up, but are not specifically topographical accounts of that landscape. Rather, they are places in which painting is explored through light, rendering, layering and dynamics of line, form and colour; and operate, therefore, in a space between reality and imagination.

As well as being partially observational, Ashton Jones’ paintings might also recall his experience when in or passing through the landscape. The large painting ‘The Roll Up’ began with witnessing a grave digger from a train window that came to inspire a poem that he wrote called ‘An Exploration of a Railway Tunnel’, which was published in the poetry magazine ‘Navis’ in 1996 – ‘I saw a gravedigger, filling in with only the idea of being left with the means of getting out.’

Another theme relates to the myth of Theseus’ red ball of twine, which was given to him by Ariadne before entering the labyrinth to slay the Minotaur, in order to enable him to find his way back out.  

Given the plastic artificial nature of painting, what ultimately binds together the above themes, and the diversity of imagery and language, is a questioning of what is real and what is fictional in a painting? What is believable? This question is posed directly in the large painting ‘Blind Man’s Buff’, which depicts the artist’s left hand with index finger pointing, which might be judgemental, or directing, or simply pointing towards something. It also refers to the biblical account of Doubting Thomas, who had to touch Christ in order to know whether he really had resurrected from death. Ashton Jones then, embeds narratives deriving from the personal to historical to mythological, in order to disperse clues that guide towards or away from a definitive destination.   

Friday, 12 October 2018

The Discontents | Bermondsey Project Space | October 2018

Zavier Ellis | La République ou la Mort | 2018 | Oil, spray paint, house paint, pencil & collage on board | 200x300cm

The Discontents brings together five artworld protagonists who are recognised for their work in the industry including art criticism, journalism, running galleries and museums, educating and curating. Whilst establishing themselves in their respective capacities Matthew Collings, Tommaso Corvi-Mora, Zavier Ellis, Matthew Higgs and Max Presneill have refused to navigate a singular path through the artworld and have been insistent on maintaining a rigorous studio practice, developing successful careers as artists. 

Including painting, collage, objects and ceramics, the exhibition will be diverse despite formal and thematic correlations emerging.

 Matthew Collings presents impasto oil paintings where abstraction vies with figuration. They are narrative paintings that are deeply personal, referencing events and relationships from his early to current life.

 Tommaso Corvi-Mora’s ceramics reflect his interest in the history and tradition of British Studio Pottery. Investigating the relationship between art object and functionality, there are also political undertones including deliberations on overpopulation and compulsive consumption. 

Zavier Ellis will present a monumental 2x3 metre painting. Continuing his exploration into the historical, from where he draws an internal, symbolic logic, this recent series is inspired by research into revolutionary flags and events, and specifically in this case the French Revolution.

 Matthew Higgs will exhibit archetypal work that draws directly on the history of the readymade. Continuously scouring book stores and markets to add to his collection, Higgs appropriates elements of found books and re-contextualises them. Engaging with notions of authorship, originality, typography and linguistics his work is resonant and nuanced.

 Max Presneill’s large abstract paintings represent a labyrinthine, simultaneous enquiry into presence and mortality; masculine codes and gender; networks of understanding and cognitive associations; and sub-cultural references. They explicitly engage with the history of mark making, and by combining abstraction with collage elements Presneill seeks to undermine the hierarchy of visual signs and materials.

Together then, the artists in this exhibition engage with historicity; the personal political; the act of making; abstract versus figurative; found objects and materials; narrative; the disparate; and the interconnectedness of things.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Hugh Mendes | Autorretrato | Sep-Oct 2018

Hugh Mendes’ third solo exhibition with the gallery. Mendes is recognised for finely rendered obituary paintings that operate simultaneously as portrait and still life. This obsessive
project, ongoing now for over ten years, evolved originally from making still life paintings of newspaper cuttings. Considering still life’s metaphorical function within the history of Western art from 16th century Netherlandish painting onwards, adopting the obituary as a singular subject enabled Mendes to embrace and affirm the inherent meaning of memento mori: remember death.

In this series Mendes continues from his 2016 exhibition ‘The Death of the Artist’, which represented a shift from painting various notable figures whose life and work resonated with Mendes, to recently deceased artists only. Significantly, in this exhibition Mendes turns backwards to paint heroic artists from throughout the centuries, all of whom have expressly impacted upon him and his practice. And in using their own self-portraits as source material, Mendes has been able to engage profoundly with the artists’ intentions:

“I used Lucian Freud’s self-portrait a few years ago, then continued to explore this theme with others, such as Francis Bacon and Michael Andrews. This gave me a fascinating new perspective, as I was engaging with their psychology and how they saw themselves. It also allowed me to engage with their idiosyncratic use of paint and perhaps consider a degree of existentialism.”

Indeed, this process has facilitated a meditation on and enabled a conversation with the titans of art history: Picasso, Matisse, van Gogh, Cézanne, El Greco, Vermeer, Rembrandt and Goya all feature. During the making of each of these paintings, Mendes has engaged profoundly with the personality of the artist, investing in and befriending them. He will talk with fondness of the characteristics of every subject, as well as the challenge of integrating their techniques with his own. Each painting, therefore, is activated differently, and represents an audacious synthesis of contemporary and historical painting.

Mythos | Beth Carter, Lisa Ivory & Josef Ofer | Jul-Aug 2018

A three-person show investigating foreboding, personalised mythologies in oil, bronze, plaster and ink. Each of these artists engages with universal mythology in order to derive a unique, subjective and relentless vision.

Lisa Ivory’s crepuscular paintings are simultaneously sensual and abject. Often depicting beasts coupling with naked women in open landscape, we are presented with an alternative meditation on man and animal; civilization and nature. Ivory states: “As both myth and symbol, the Wild Man could be both savage and sublime, evoke fear and admiration, and represent our antithesis and ideal. It is a universal condition, as evident within ‘civilization’ as without.” Ivory employs the bestial as an affirmative metaphor. Narratives throughout history have presented the beast as an exiled, malevolent aberration that induces fear and horror, representing the antithesis of society’s expectations. Ivory again: “The monstrous; primitive, irrational Wild Man is at once our fall guy, our belonging and our otherness. The foundling, the waif, the abandoned and the fallen woman share this plight.”
In contrast to prescribed narratives, Ivory’s monsters are Outsiders who are accepted and embraced, no longer the excluded Other.

Beth Carter’s plaster and bronze sculptures often combine man and animal, drawing on a rich and ancient history of hybrid mythologies. As the artist states: “Working within the realms of a sculptural tradition where the symbolic use of animal imagery is a potent and continuous source, my work creates allegories by, amongst other things, integrating the human form with animal forms. The resulting imagery holds both a timeless significance and a contemporary relevance despite and because of our separation from the natural world.” The integration of human and animal forms within Carter’s work is effortless, creating an entirely tenable slippage between the imaginary and reality. Referencing, for example, biblical and Celtic mythologies including the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse or the Underworld, Carter appeals to an internal place that is informed and dominated by storytelling, dream and universal archetypes.

Having been one of the youngest ever pupils to be admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris at the age of 17 years, Israeli born Josef Ofer has lived in a community of 80 people on the banks of the Amazonian Rio Negro for over two decades. Recalling Francisco Goya, Honoré Daumier and Victor Hugo, Ofer’s ink drawings of often solitary, skeletal figures convey an incomparable inner, existential angst. Occasionally hybrid and bestial, and always redolent with despair, Ofer’s work provides a counterpoint to both Carter and Ivory. More internalised, and inhabiting an isolated wilderness, Ofer’s figures truly depict a Romantic vision, and a critique of society and civilization that can only be achieved by one’s removal from it.


 Alex Gene Morrison | 'Orange Eye (Yellow Border)' | 2018 | Oil on canvas | 35x25cm

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Transcript | May-Jun 2018

CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is delighted to present ‘Transcript’, a group exhibition curated by gallery director Zavier Ellis and artist Hugh Mendes. Both Ellis and Mendes have an enduring interest in text based work and in the occurrence of text itself in our general cultural environment.
This exhibition will explore the use of text in contemporary art that has been transcribed from every day or alternative sources. For over a century, ushered in by Pablo Picasso’s inclusion of the fragmented word ‘JOU’ and collaged oil cloth in ‘Still-Life with Chair Caning’ (1912), artists have turned to low sources and materials gleaned from everyday life, thereby navigating visual communication away from its traditional reliance on imagery. Found elements derived from life in the studio, street and café were deployed to confront the audience directly with the stuff of reality at a time of great political, social and cultural flux. Fast paced change was axiomatic of the modern period, echoed by incessant industrial, technical and mechanical progress. Additionally, during a period of economic depression during and between the two world wars, adopting the use of accessible collage elements and found objects represented a democratisation of materials in themselves.

Picasso’s introduction of text as a prominent surface component prepared the way for contemporary artists to develop it into a subject in itself, and to engage directly with popular culture; commercial strategies; and semantics. The artists in this exhibition wholeheartedly embrace the dissolution of hierarchical materials and sources. ‘Transcript’ will include painting, work on paper,
video, installation, sculpture, performance and assemblage derived from film, signage, posters, advertising, newspapers, notebooks, diaries, clichés, graffiti, tattoo and schizophrenic acoustic hallucinations.

Beyond this framework, ‘Transcript’ will investigate the disruption of language. In 1916 ‘Course in General Linguistics’ by Ferdinand de Saussure was posthumously published, and became a critical work in the field of semiotics. Central to Saussure’s theory is the arbitrary relationship between the signifier and signified. Taking the written word as the ultimate signifier, where meaning is attached by general consensus, text based work has the facility to communicate universally, at least to an audience who speak and read the same language. However, again from synthetic cubism onwards, text based work is often characterized by fragmentation and incoherence, where the association between signifier and signified is disrupted. This exhibition will assert that broken, covered, erased, reversed, redacted, or dissolving words, letters or sentences serve to deconstruct language in order
to encourage ambiguous, new or unintentional meanings, both cognitively and instinctively.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is delighted to present Kiera Bennett’s second solo exhibition at the gallery
 Bennett continues her exploration of making paintings about the practice of painting, and the actions and emotions that accompany the process. Beginning by making repetitive line drawings, and then repeating the process when making the paintings themselves, Bennett relentlessly seeks to hone her line and form in order to arrive at an essence. This distillation replicates the process of depiction to abstraction that was so well refined by early 20th century Modernism, which in turn referenced perceived notions about early non-Western art.
 Bennett’s paintings contrast the Modernist dictum of objectification, however, in being highly personal abstractions (to varying degrees) of life in the studio or working en plein air in imagined landscapes. They might refer directly to artwork or artists that have influenced her, or with which she is preoccupied – Munch’s sun paintings being a prime example. From cave painting to postmodernism via Picasso, Matisse, de Kooning and Guston, Bennett’s reference points are broad, but are employed in a manner which can be unique only to her. 
 Singular formal elements are appropriated, or transcribed, and worked into an expansive composition. This is in combination with an emotional response to seeing and feeling the original work; making and digesting her own work; and re-imagining and depicting the process of making. And as a female artist working in a post-postmodern arena, Bennett is embracing, inhabiting and deconstructing the tradition of linear, white, male dominated Modernism.
 “The work usually turns into conversations with other paintings by other painters. Painting for me is ultimately about creating structures within which I can try to paint in all the ways I want to and establish an ongoing dialogue with the history of art; the behemoth of art history to the present.” 

Friday, 20 April 2018

VOLTA NEW YORK | Kiera Bennett & Hugh Mendes | Mar 2018

The painter, the artist’s studio and the act of painting itself are often the subject of the work. Autobiographical references are filtered through an instinctive selection process. Driven by a desire to make the fleeting and the fugitive permanent and immovable, my paintings are abstractions of these experiences.”

“The use of newspaper clippings provides a very flat spatial field, recalling certain trompe l’oeil 17th century still life painting. Obituaries condense a life into a few column inches and a single image – a scrap of newsprint that becomes a heavy token, a memento, even an icon, when rendered in paint.”

CONTEXT: Gallery Artists & Collaborators | Feb-Mar 2018

Thursday, 22 March 2018


Peter Ashton Jones, Emma Bennett, Kiera Bennett, Tom Butler, Dan Coombs, Florian Heinke, Sam Jackson, Reece Jones, Kate Lyddon, Eric Manigaud, Wendy Mayer, Hugh Mendes, Alex Gene Morrison, Gavin Nolan, Dominic Shepherd, John Stark, Geraldine Swayne, Barry Thompson, Gavin Tremlett

In our first exhibition of the year, CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is pleased to offer a unique opportunity to view our gallery artists and key collaborators in context. Gallery Director Zavier Ellis states:

“In some ways a gallery artists show is a pretty dull and unimaginative thing to do. But, on the upside it enables our audience to digest our stable in context. We are mostly a painter’s gallery, albeit with a curatorial emphasis that embraces every medium when appropriate. The artists we exhibit are technical, but this is nowhere near enough in itself. You will find that each one of them makes work with an intense emotional, philosophical or psychological charge, and so their work operates in a challenging, profound way.

These artists are lateral thinkers who know that the trajectory of history is not as linear as is often presented, and that everything operates in a complex, non-hierarchical, interconnected way. Embracing doctrines and tendencies from the modern and postmodern periods, as well as near and deep history, they conduct their investigation without irony or sentimentality, but rather with positive affirmation, intelligence and deliberation. 

Added to the gallery artists in this show, we have invited others with whom we collaborate regularly, who work in paint, pencil, charcoal and installation. So in actual fact, a potentially dull and unimaginative idea becomes an intriguing and engaging proposition. This is not for everyone, but those that get it will be rewarded for their conviction.”                      

Volta New York | 2018

Kiera Bennett & Hugh Mendes 


Hugh Mendes is well recognised for his obsessive, ongoing series of obituary paintings. Since 2001, Mendes has made paintings of newspaper clippings, tracking significant stories that have a personal resonance for the artist. The series began when Mendes made a double portrait for an exhibition due to open on September 11th, 2001. It soon became apparent that Mendes had unwittingly painted a relatively unknown Osama bin Laden aiming a Kalashnikov at the more familiar George W. Bush.

This painting led to a ten-year project documenting the war on terror, alongside which Mendes began making paintings after newspaper obituaries. At once portraits and still life, they operate as memento mori on several levels. These works also refer to visual history generally, in subtly engaging with historical painting as well as the mechanical reproduction of imagery, including photography and newspaper printing. As the artist states:    

“The use of newspaper clippings provides a very flat spatial field, recalling certain trompe l’oeil 17th century still life painting. Obituaries condense a life into a few column inches and a single image – a scrap of newsprint that becomes a heavy token, a memento, even an icon, when rendered in paint.”

In recent years Mendes has come to focus almost entirely on obituaries of artists, and this series represents the first time that he has depicted those that have not recently passed away. This allows for historical artists to be considered as potential subject matter, including in this exhibition late 20th century painters such as Jackson Pollock, Joan Mitchell, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.     

Illustrated by the fact that Kiera Bennett is collected by artists including Graham Crowley, Julian Opie, Cornelia Parker and Mario Testino, she is often considered a painter’s painter. And in her recent, ongoing series of paintings about the life and work of an artist in their studio, Bennett ratifies this idea: she is an artist who is absorbed in making work about making work. As she states:

The painter, the artist’s studio and the act of painting itself are often the subject of the work. Autobiographical references are filtered through an instinctive selection process. Driven by a desire to make the fleeting and the fugitive permanent and immovable, my paintings are abstractions of these experiences.”

There is a lyrical fluidity to the paintings where form is implied by swathes of colour delineated by line and striations. We are presented with abstracted depictions, often made in series, that are informed by relentless and repetitive line drawings. The resultant paintings invite us to decode depictions of semi to almost pure abstraction. These formal attributes recall early Modernism, and in combination with the artist’s intentions and preoccupations exemplify something closer to Metamodernism, where a constant and cyclic relationship between Modernist and Postmodernist doctrines is affirmed.


Emma Bennett, Kiera Bennett, Sam Douglas, Sam Jackson, Hugh Mendes, John Stark, Barry Thompson

Emma Bennett, 'Alter the action', 2017 Oil on canvas 122x91.5cm

Kiera Bennett, 'Light Cave Painting', 2017 Oil on canvas 45x35cm

Sam Douglas, 'Shrine to St. John of Kronstadt', 2017 Oil, varnish on board 30x48cm

Barry Thompson, 'Love you so much it makes me sick', 2017 Oil on panel 11.5x18cm


Kiera Bennett, Florian Heike, Gavin Nolan, Dominic Shepherd, John Stark

Kiera Bennett, 'Hand and Head', 2017 Oil on canvas 55x45cm

Gavin Nolan, 'Spread Spectrum', 2017 Oil on canvas 18x24cm

John Stark, 'Meditation', 2014 Oil on oak panel 30.5x40.5cm

Friday, 8 December 2017

HAUNTS | Emma Bennett | Nov - Dec 2017

CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is delighted to announce Emma Bennett’s fourth solo exhibition at the gallery.

Bennett is well known for her sumptuous paintings that set figurative elements against black, monochromatic grounds. Potentially incongruous elements might be included in any singular piece including flowers; fruit; fire; water; fabric; or game; and more recently interior objects and details including lamps, table tops, curtains, stairs, alcoves and mirrors. Any indication of dissonance, however, is assuaged by fundamental, underlying interpretation and superlative compositional awareness. Bennett’s use of memento mori is well documented, as she intelligently navigates traditional motifs in combination with alternative, contemporary imagery derived from film and photography.

The ephemeral and intangible are relentlessly depicted, and now in combination with notions of place, as well as time. There is a foreground and background; and movement through, from or within a tangible space is suggested by stairs or mirrors that lead the eye around the picture plane. Presence, or rather absence, is effortlessly evidenced. These more spatial paintings suggest film settings and Bennett’s love of cinema is palpable within this collection. Referencing Laura Mulvey’s discourse on film in ‘Death 24x a Second’, where she suggests film ‘combines, perhaps more perfectly than any other medium, two human fascinations: one with the boundary between life and death and the other with the mechanical animation of the inanimate’[1], we come to appreciate how creators throughout history have continued to meditate on the fundamentals of existence.

[1] L. Mulvey, Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image, Reaktion Books, 2006

Thursday, 19 October 2017

RUN TO ME | Sam Jackson & Derek Ridgers

RUN TO ME brings together the work of painter Sam Jackson and photographer Derek Ridgers. Curated by Faye Dowling, the exhibition celebrates the sacred ceremonies of excess, desire and experimentation which intoxicate our youth.

British artists Ridgers and Jackson are united by an instinct to document the characters and compulsions that have driven the heart of our youth culture. Their photographs and paintings lead us into the nocturnal romances of passion and performance which ignite our passage of youth. The ceremonies of dressing up and dancing, the seduction of exposed flesh and of kissing in dark doorways. The melancholy and mischief, the ecstasy and heart break.

Sam Jackson’s compulsive oil paintings explore themes of transgression and power in intimate portraits of youth culture and desire. Jackson’s text appears propelled to new, heightened voices. Symbols and statements speak of inner dialogues and desires, driving us to question the tensions between our public and private identities; and to navigate truths about intimacy, fantasy, and will. With gravity and compassion, Jackson’s paintings walk the line between violence and vulnerability, regret and desire, kissing and fucking.

Over four decades Derek Ridgers has been photographing the beautiful and the damned in his ongoing portrayal of youth culture and identity. Photographed in iconic clubs such as Blitz, Billy’s and Skin II, his portraits capture the subterranean club-life of the 1980s and 90s, conveying a dark carnival of music and fashion, love and lust. Caught in the flashlights, we see ourselves reflected in the faces of his photographs; and witness the tensions between power and vulnerability, questioning who is in control - the observer or observed?

Eric Manigaud | October 2017

Manigaud is recognised for his impeccable photo-realist drawings made after original, archival photographs. Working in series, he investigates profound, historical themes including injured World War I soldiers; bombed World War II cities; 19th century murder victims; and asylum inmates. His subject matter, therefore, is commonly brutal and uncompromising. 

In this exhibition Manigaud has focused entirely on the Paris massacre of 1961, when the French National Police attacked a peaceful demonstration of pro-National Liberation Front (FLN) Algerians, which resulted in the ruthless and intentional murder of numerous unarmed demonstrators (estimated between 200 and 300 despite the French government eventually acknowledging only 40 deaths in 1998).