Thursday, 22 March 2018

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.

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