A Grammar of Gestures in Athens

Exhibition view A Grammar of Gestures

A Grammar of Gestures brings together the work of five painters from different European cities: Maria Capelo (Lisbon), Mark Lammert (Berlin), Michael Markwick (Berlin), Béatrice Dreux (Vienna) and David Benforado (Athens).

Human figures, animals, or elements of landscape appear in their works, but these motifs present themselves neither in a singular, unambiguous way, nor as a hard subject matter. Rather, the center of attention is on the dynamics of shapes, on the ability of forms to flip and change appearance while you are looking at them. This shifting has to do with the way the motifs are executed, with the grammar of painterly gestures that is involved in the conception of the works.

For David Benforado (image left) the canvas is both a possibility to evoke a landscape as a surface that reflects an inner state of being, and a panel of thoughts. What appears to be a night landscape might change into an internal view when reading the title of the work ‘Ultrasound.’

Béatrice Dreux (image right) uses simple motifs like a moon, a cloud, or a rainbow, and from there, she develops the forms in a process of layering and detailed surface treatment until they gain an inner strength. For Dreux painting is a language in itself. When she paints, she is not aiming to tell a story, or make some statement about subject matter. Instead it is about texture, gesture, color, and form, and how these elements together on the canvas speak to us directly.

“A Grammar of Gestures” 23 November 2021 – 20 February 2022 at Kourd Gallery in Athens. With Maria Capelo, Mark Lammert, Michael Markwick, Beatrice Dreux. A program of talks on contemporary painting will be announced for February 2022, as soon as the covid situation allows.

Caroline Walker in The Hague

The more than twenty paintings in “Windows,” London-based painter Caroline Walker’s first solo show at a museum, depict women engaged in various kinds of work: a maid in a hotel room, a hostess taking reservations in a restaurant, a hairdresser on the salon floor. Walker observes these figures through a window or doorway. Such framed views add a layer of estrangement and abstraction to her quotidian scenes, ensuring that we viewers never forget our voyeuristic perspective.

Walker is keyed to the social environments her figures inhabit, homing in on details such as lighting, decor, and body language. At the same time, she moves through different ways of mark-making, shifting gears between the clearly articulated and foggier parts of an interior, for example, or between sparkling accents such as a glistening glass with an orange drink on the table and bland patches like a blank wall.

These paintings do not contrive spectacular effects, but rather impress through their insistent focus on scenes of contemporary life that might otherwise go unnoticed. A swirling pattern of flowers on the window of a hair salon, for example, attracts our attention to what is happening inside. Through painting, the artist bestows attention on women, their occupations, and their more or less fortunate situation in society. This alone does not grant them agency; Walker’s work, often based on photographs taken in secret, is less concerned with producing empowering representations than it is with probing the act of spectatorship. She enacts the possibility of painting to accumulate layers of reflection, a haptic experience of life observed, leaving the sociological analysis to her viewers.

This text was first published as a Critics’ Pick on Artforum.com in November 2021

Elisabeth Frieberg in Stockholm

studio elisabeth frieberg stockholm

During my visit to Sweden, the artist showed me the works of her grandparents, Beth Zeeh and Ryno Frieberg, both painters whose works can be seen in their former house in the countryside. Driving there, a good hour outside of Stockholm, I watched the landscape change into gently curving meadows, farms, forests, and lakes. I became aware of the natural background of Frieberg’s works, the visual “material” the artist has seen so often, even if only subconsciously, as it was simply always there. You might wonder why she did not become a landscape painter, considering that she grew up as a country girl, playing at the lakeside, catching fish under the bridge, and seeing how animals were fed at the farm nearby. Or you could argue that she did become a landscape painter, but she did so in the age of abstraction, where the focus is not necessarily on what can be recognized as a depiction in a painting, but on what is present in terms of energy and ideas, colors and forms. Broadly speaking, and probably more correctly, we could call Frieberg a nature-based painter. Her paintings cannot really be separated from nature, just as they cannot be separated from the late 20th century in which she grew up. She went to art school in Umeå at a time when abstract and conceptual takes on art had become part of daily practice and conversation. Abstraction was neither a novelty nor the result of a reductive view on reality, but simply an existing vocabulary with its own expressive possibilities. At the same time, for Frieberg, every part of her “abstract” paintings is rooted in nature – in the color of the sky, the movement of water, the pattern of a bird’s feather.

(…)

From the essay: “Connecting to the Source,” published in the book Elisabeth Frieberg, Rhythm Nature Movement God, Kewenig Gallery, 2021.

Eeva-Leena Eklund

I wonder if Eeva-Leena Eklund orders her pizzas because of the taste, or because of the visual patterns they provide. Throughout the years she has painted quite some different types. In square and circular paintings, salami and paprika have transformed into abstract patterns, color dots and stripes. Basically this approach applies to other motifs as well. It starts with things from everyday life, like flowers, cats or fruit. Then the artist zooms in, looks for rhythm and color dynamics, and discovers a not yet familiar sight within the figuration.

At the EMMA (Espoo Museum of Modern Art) in Finland, Eeva-Leena Eklund made an installation in which she combines paintings with photographs. She mixies many works together, presenting them side by side, creating a visual explosion. One should not be fooled by the abundance of flowers and density of colors. Within the cheerful abundance, many contrasts can be found. The sweet comes with the sour, the soft with the sharp and the work is as comforting as it is provocative. The exhibition as a whole transmits a spirit of freedom, in how to look at life, how to be yourself, and how to make painting the art of the day that matters most.

The exhibition Eeva-Leena Eklund is up till 22 August 2021 at the EMMA (close to Helsinki), curated by Anna Tuori, and commissioned by the Saastamoinen Foundation.

Lara de Moor

schilder Velvet van Lara de Moor

Leegte schilderen is een paradoxale bezigheid. In het werk van Lara de Moor gaat het om wat in de lucht hangt in nagenoeg lege huizen, om de atmosfeer die in een kamer kan worden aangetroffen. Enerzijds wordt de toon gezet door sporen van de tijd, zoals een lichtplek op de muur die verraadt waar jarenlang een schilderij heeft gehangen. Anderzijds is er de schilder die een stemming en haar biografie meebrengt en de lege ruimtes daarmee oplaadt en bepaalde aspecten accentueert. Of is het de bezoeker die het tafereel inkleurt? Wat objectief aanwezig is of in de lucht hangt, kan niet scherp worden gescheiden van wat er in de beshouwer aan inhoud sluimert. En precies daar krijgen de werken betekenis.

Tot 10 juli 2021 zijn werken van Lara de Moor te zien bij galerie Roger Katwijk in Amsterdam. De kunstenaar woont en werkt in Haarlem.

Glenn Brown in Berlin

Glenn Brown exhibitioin at Max Hetzler gallery Berlin

Since his appearance on the 1990’s London art scene, Glenn Brown has been in an ongoing dialogue with his predecessors, without being afraid of mutilating his examples or pushing aspects of their work to the limits through stylish deviation and exaggeration. For his exhibition And thus we existed, the artist presents 17 recent paintings that are loosely based on historical figure drawings, alongside six paint-based sculptures. 

Multiple sources often come together in one painting, such as in the green Bring on the Headless Horses (2020), which projects a seated nude over a Hercules figure, intertwining them. This piece is based on works by two 17th– and 18th-century artists (Mr. Brown usually prefers not to disclose the names of his sources, unless of course they are mentioned in the title), but it also references the artist’s own previous work.

Seeing a painting by Glenn Brown is like watching a peacock opening its tail. It is full of proud beauty, carefully orchestrated colors, and within the repeating patterns there are many little “eyes” hidden in the paint, in curving lines. Sometimes they are intentionally meant as eyes, but they are often just blinking moments that draw the attention into the dense figuration, creating anchor points in what seems an overwhelming and cluttered play of lines and colors around a human figure. For the current exhibition Brown was apparently triggered by the multitude of curving, shorter and longer lines that can be found in drawings. He uses them to shape his figures, serving representation, but he also lets them shine as free-moving ornaments in a rich display of color and paint.

Seeing these works, I wondered if the artist considered a path through each of them, in terms of where to start looking, where to continue, and where to leave the painting. Some shops make customers go through their offer in just such a prescribed way. There is no way to find what you are looking for without passing a variety of other offers that call for your attention. In Brown’s case, there are many distractions to look at, and the viewer might wonder if there is a point at which everything comes together. Looking for meaning here feels like a game of a hide-and-seek, in which everything is curling and swirling, in which figures are appearing and disappearing, and the image never comes to rest. 

It is interesting how different the temperaments of the individual works are – ranging from light and airy, to melancholic or tormented – while sharing the same compositional principles. Color seems to be the decisive factor here, giving each work its own pitch. Some small paintings though, like Drawing 9 (After Baselitz) (2017), stand out without (or with just a little) color, and for their dynamics, rely on the contrast between black and white, and between dense and emptier areas. The play of lines in this work is reminiscent of a detailed mountain map where differences in elevation are indicated, even though the actual image is that of a face.

There is not one way to go through the paintings – there are endless ways, and I figure that the artist conceived his work rather purposely in such a way that it is not easy to find an exit. Yet, he gives us some spots that serve well as entrances, like a single red shape against a green, forming a hand, or the blinking eyes that pull attention like a vortex. Once inside the painting, the eye keeps wandering, moving over to an opposite color, or looking for a repetition of the same blue. Everything is connected, yet everything is also loose and by itself. Mr. Brown succeeds in evoking a restless dynamic in a medium that is often thought of as stationary. The many hours of meticulous labor invested in getting at this result has its counterpart in the time needed to “read” and experience the painting fully. There is not one single image – there are many brought together into one painting under the pretext of depicting a figure.

–Jurriaan Benschop

On view at Max Hetzler Gallery, Berlin, untill 23 January 2021 (due to covid by appointment only)

Other Reviews

‘A Matter of Touch’ at Torstrasse 111 in Berlin

A Matter of Touch, Exhibition - Curated by Jurriaan Benschop.

Touch is an important aspect of painting. The temperaments of the artists in this exhibition can be felt through the way they have worked and touched the canvas, be it with a firm, decisive brushstroke, a light touch to create transparency, or the sanding off of layers to create flatness or roughness. A whole range of sensibilities can be stored in a painting, speaking to us even before we identify what is actually depicted.

Though keeping distance has become the norm in public life, in the realm of paintings, we can be reminded of physical encounters and intimacy, and enjoy a close perspective. The artists in this exhibition embrace the tactile and are interested in paintings as physical matter. Yet their focus is also on less tangible aspects of the artworks, such as luminosity, wonder, or absence. The importance of light can be felt throughout a range of different motifs and vocabularies.

The works have been collected from studios on both sides of the Atlantic. Due to the pandemic, not all artists are able to be present for the opening, yet their works offer us an artistic dialogue across borders. The paintings find a temporary home in the ruinous beauty of the Kunst- und Projekthaus Torstrasse 111. Located in the center of Berlin, the space evokes the time when the city offered itself as an artistic Freiraum.

Participating artists: Nikos Aslanidis, Thessaloniki; Thomas Brüggemann, Berlin; Michelle Jezierski, Berlin; Joseph Kameen, Aiken, South Carolina; Kiki Kolympari, Athens; Adrienne Elyse Meyers, Chicago; Grit Richter, Hamburg; Rubica von Streng, Berlin         

Curated by Jurriaan Benschop for Kunst- und Projekthaus Torstrasse 111, 10119 Berlin. Project management: Ulrike Seyboth & Ingo Fröhlich, www.torstrasse111.de

Exhibition from 16 July till 30 August 2020.

Image above: installation view with works by Rubica von Streng and Nikos Aslanidis.

MORE exhibition views

Painting Exhibition A Matter of Touch, exhibition view, Adrienne Elyse Meyers, Rubica von Streng, Jurriaan Benschop
Exhibition A Matter of Touch, works by Adrienne Elyse Meyers (back) and Rubica von Streng (front)

Studio Talk with Daniel Richter

For his new series of paintings, presented in the exhibition So Long, Daddy, Daniel Richter has plugged into a timeless motif in painting: the figure. Yet this description immediately comes with questions. Who or what are the beings that appear in these colorful and dynamic paintings? And how would we label the environment in which they appear? Both the figures and the spaces around them are ambiguous and impossible to identify in one single way.

If we follow the complex play of lines within the paintings, enforced by marks of color, we get a sense of the complexity of the figures. Their outlines and gestures seem familiar enough to interpret them as fellow human beings. Yet within them, there is also the suggestion of something animalistic, an instinctive energy. Maybe humans are crossed here with their natural roots, the paintings bringing out the monkey inside us, or the bird that screams and wants to fly. (….)

Jurriaan Benschop spoke with Daniel Richter in his studio in Berlin about the paintings for his exhibition in Salzburg at Thaddaeus Ropac gallery. Below you can see a fragment of the conversation.

Video interview

Restless by Nature. Anna Tuori in Paris

The first word that comes to mind when I look at the works of Anna Tuori is restless. There are restless “walkers” populating her paintings, ready to go but also wanting to stay. A restless hand made the paintings, moving over the surface, adding scribbles and patches in different places. And the resulting works never rest; they appear active, vibrant, and alive.

The Walkers is a series of paintings that Tuori started in 2017. Having seen them in different situations, I started wondering why they work so well. At first, they look quite simple in composition and casual in execution. There is a human figure whose head has been chopped, cut by the frame of the painting. Yet the figure is not entirely headless: a face turns up at another, rather unexpected place, for instance between the legs, or on the jacket of the walker. This series makes me think about movement, about having or lacking direction as a human being, and about grace and speed. But these works also evoke contrasts between burden and lightness, roughness and delicacy. They are open figures rather than specific characters, which enables us to identify with them. The longer I look, the more details appear on the surface and the more sophisticated the paintings become, in terms of having nuance of expression and balance in composition. The individual paintings cannot be grasped all at once, each as an overall image. Only through time, through putting together the pieces that are spread over the painting, does the scene become a whole in the mind of the beholder.

Painting is, among other things, about looking and seeing. For that reason, it seems quite relevant that the walking figures are not looking at us. We don’t meet their gaze; we are looking at a moving person from an outsider’s perspective. For Tuori, reflections on the impact of seeing have a special place in the works she made for her Paris exhibition. This goes for the Walkers, but also for the different portraits of women that are on display in the show. In Dissociation (2019), there is a face with many eyes, or actually multiple faces within one figure. In Off on an Adventure (2019), the facial expression usually accentuated through eyes, mouth, and nose is almost absent, hidden under light paint. In the details of the figures, a lot can be noticed, about eyes for example, but also about how hair falls, how an arm is lifted. Just like in daily life, in the way people look and move, a lot is happening and can be read as an indication of somebody’s well-being. A gaze can be unpleasant, experienced as offensive or even as an act of aggression, while looking can also transmit love or care. In the dense traffic of looks, flirts, or meaningful gazes, Tuori seems very alert and redirects the sight lines to where she thinks it is necessary. The women in her works are certainly not just there to be pretty and admired. They are complicated, hard to read, or hiding behind smoke. They seem independent from what beholders might want to see in them.

The way Tuori paints the portraits looks like drawing with the brush – sketch-like, with energetic lines. Despite the restlessness of the figures, or even their neuroses or anxieties, there is generally an upbeat quality to the work. There is pleasure in the drama that unfolds. The artist seems to enjoy the whole range of expression that is possible in painting, as well as the ability to loosen things up through lines. She doesn’t feel like an expressionist, though, instead mixing an expressive gesture with other things. “In the painting, emotional or intuitive and conscious or intellectual approaches do not exclude each other. Just like expressive or conceptual ways do not exclude each other,” the artist commented.

During a dinner in Helsinki with the artist and some friends, we spoke about the fact that Finland was listed as the happiest country in the world for two years in a row, according to a United Nations study. How do you measure happiness? Apart from economic indicators such as gross domestic product, aspects like life expectancy, corruption in government, and the ways communities interact with each other were included. The locals at the dinner table made jokes about Finnish happiness, knowing that the long, dark winters do not exactly bring out the cheer in people. Yet I could also detect joy in the ironic self-reflections. Similarly, in Tuori’s paintings, there is a mocking, light touch, while at the same time nothing less than the struggle of life is what we are looking at. And this light note comes not just from being Finnish, but also from painting, from the transformative power that painting has over life.

Tuori’s mentality behind painting is not one that gets too comfortable with itself. The artist has changed and developed her approach over the years. It started from a dialogue with a romantic conception of art. The figures in some older paintings create their own imaginary world as a hideout. Tuori was shaped by modern ideals as well, by belief in progress, and the confidence that we can design our own lives. In the recent works, I sense a reluctance to tell too much of a story, and the artist also doesn’t lead us to wander around in an imagined, painted world. There is a rougher edge to the work, and less usage of effect to impress. Painting now seems to spring from the wish to balance believing and being skeptical, being empathetic and not caring so much what others might think. You just need to be alert, open, and flexible. Tuori’s figures appear to be in a permanent process of loosening up. They are as restless as I could hope for.

–Jurriaan Benschop

This text was published in the catalog of the exhibition Anna Tuori ‘Never seen a Bag Exploding,’ scheduled to be on view till 2 May 2020 (but currently closed because of covid19 restrictions). For information and obtaining the catalog contact Suzanne Tarasieve Gallery in Paris

Lecture Rethink Painting at HBK Essen

On December 3rd, 2019, Jurriaan Benschop will be at the HBK Essen, Germany, for a talk in the series ‘Rethink Painting’, initiated by Nicola Stäglich and Sabine Bartelsheim. He will discuss the work of some contemporary painters, among them Kaido Ole, Bernard Frize, Bridget Riley, Janis Avotins, Béatrice Dreux and Paula Rego. Included will be reflections on the question How to write/speak about painting in the current era of stylistic pluralism? View details and announcement HBK here