Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Exhibition Review: Hugo Grenville, ‘Harmonia’ Wally Findlay Galleries, 124 E 57th St, New York 15th May – 15th June, 2013

Hugo Grenville: ‘Harmonia’exhibition

If Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings remind us of the exuberance, the surprise and the energy of freeform jazz, then Hugo Grenville’s paintings in his latest show ‘Harmonia’ (Wally Findlay Galleries, New York) certainly evoke a different kind of music.  This collection of paintings, all executed in the past 12 months, possesses luminosity, where light and gentle colours dance across the whole picture surface: These paintings allow us to hear an elegant string quartet playing a Chopin nocturne on a bright summer’s day.  However on closer inspection of this show, one is treated to a surprising diversity of mood from piece to piece, as well as a dynamic and exciting (not to mention heartfelt and genuinely inquisitive) exploration into a world of colour and mark making that is clearly inspired by a love of French post impressionism; indeed a gorgeous landscape study by Pierre Bonnard hangs in amongst the Grenvilles, quietly reminding us not to forget where all this came from.
‘Summer Morning, 23 Arcola Street’ by Hugo Grenville

The show comprises twenty paintings, the majority of which are nudes and still lifes (some complete with Matisse-ian backdrop of a view from a window), peppered with a couple of landscapes.  In the figure paintings especially, compositions appear as if stitched together with patches of contrasting patterns and colour schemes. There is a real playfulness to the approach, which celebrates the beauty of the fabrics surrounding the figure, as well as elegant flowers and ornaments.  In ’Summer Morning, 23 Arcola Street’, the viewer encounters not a grimy east London view, but a Fragonardian seated figure in a beautifully opulent interior, mindlessly fumbling with a piece of material.  You sense that the artist lives his life inhabiting a very special place that marries all the best bits of life from the late 18th Century to today.  The patterns serve as a structure on to which Grenville can apply harmonious colour.  More often than not the fizz of the patterns lie in direct contrast to the human presence, which is always a young girl, either lost in contemplation or asleep.  The peace of the paintings is found in their innocence and passivity; one is invited to project one’s own narrative to the scene or simply bathe in the sheer delight of the colour.

‘A Pilgrim Soul’ is arguably Grenville’s bravest and most emotion-laden painting yet, and is a paired down composition drawn from an earlier painting ‘Ah Love, Let Us Be True To One Another’, which hangs nearby. It’s brave because one feels he is not hiding behind the cleverness of all the patterns and colours, it simply shows the upper torso of a girl asleep. It is painted so sensitively the feeling of serenity is arresting.  The use of gold leaf to decorate the girl’s headband and fabrics behind her evoke a similar feeling that one feels when standing in front of a medieval altarpiece; there’s something so spiritual and other-worldly in this very simple painting – through finding it himself Grenville is urging us all to slow down the process of looking, as there is something profoundly spiritual in the everyday, if only we paused to contemplate it.