Tiffany Liu, “Happy Night”
Revising an established masterpiece must be a tricky manoeuvre. Wouldn’t you feel a bit like a little fanboy/girl? Wouldn’t a tiny part of your brain take the form of the original artist, heckling you from inside your own head as you paint, and turning in their grave every time you close your eyes? It’s a psychological minefield of taste and comparison fatigue! But the London Miles gallery is hardly risk averse, and that is exactly what they have asked their tribe of international art warriors to have a stab at. The show is called “The Idol Hours”; and there are around 30 artists on show. Let’s have a butcher’s…
Ken Keirns, “Lady With a Cat”
I start with a little crowd-watching to see which artworks have the strongest magnetic fields. I very quickly realise that one of the big draws is Ken Keirns’s reprise of Leonardo’s Lady with an Ermine. I’d seen this on the web already, but that was nothing like seeing it for real. It’s a small, stunningly beautiful painting and the people who are standing around it are literally melting with joy at the lusciousness of the paint-handling. It’s got the slickness and perfectionism of a John Currin, and it feels like Keirns would really like Renaissance Florence to know about what he does. It’s not a massive restyling, recontextualizing satire or anything like that – it’s a genuine attempt to compete with, or get in touch with Leonardo’s world, using his own neo-mannerist grace. So that’s one dead artist in my head who isn’t spinning in his grave. No, he’s stroking his massive beard and really quite digging it. “Bellissimo”, he says!
Bob Dob, “Another Sunday Morning”
However, other artists on display are approaching their heroes from less direct perspectives. Poor old Vincent Van Gogh gets the works twice here, and both works are among the shows high points. Bob Dob’s superb Another Sunday Morning brings questions and a tactile putty-world quality to Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear. Is there any dignity to this tragic, bitter outsider? Is there regret? Is this even Vincent? It could be just a hapless loser with a hangover. Meanwhile, Tiffany Liu does radical things to Starry Night. Van Gogh’s angular, scratchy paintwork-from-a-tortured-soul is smoothed out and fanbrushed into a happy happy miniature playground for lovable cutesy consumerist brats. Or possibly the brats are gigantic. Either way, my imaginary Vincent isn’t liking this. He’s too fragile for this playful japery.
And my imaginary Pablo has a pretty rough time of it, too. Guernica is taken up by two artists. Sergio Mora turns the composition over to pop surrealist wet dreaming in Guernica Love Song, which is a lovely big canvas (with much magnetism), while Mesh 137 gives it his soul disco treatment. Right here, right now (admittedly, I’ve had a beer and the music’s good and everything, but…) I suddenly realise that this is better than the original. It just means more to me. Mr. Mesh has broken up the picture plane in his usual way, and Guernica’s disparate elements all seem to mean something more precise than they ever have, plus there’s some big text quoting Edwin Starr: “War, what is is good for?” A deeply weird chunk of Art History has finally been driven home to me in a language I can hear. This is when I have a big falling-out with all my imaginary artists and ditch them by the wine-desk.
Sergio Mora, “Guernica Love Song”
The thing is, this isn’t about them. Pablo was born too soon to be a funk brother, Klimt was born too soon to get into the Japanime big-eyed Hello Kitty end of culture that Yoko d’Holbachie remoulded his The Kiss into. This art is for us now-people, and London Miles has hit jackpot again. Their artists are obviously very carefully chosen, not just to be diverse between themselves, and not just to tick the (illustrative/lowbrow/pop surreal) boxes that are the rough landscape here, but also to be really earnest about the whole business of making art. I’m never left with the feeling that anyone is bandwagon-jumping, or smugly chuckling about how clever it is that they’re “alternative”.
Yoko D’holbachie, “Kiss”
Obvious verdict: go and see it. You won’t like it all, but there is so much on show, and the standard is so high, you’ll find your new favourite artist and be very happy together. I can’t cover everyone in the show but I have to mention (with gratuitous weblinkage) things like Plastic God’s ticklingly immediate Help Da Vinci, which casts John, Paul, George and Ringo doing the Help! poses as Leonardo’s famous Vitruvian Man. Also, Scott C makes the Enlightenment a bit more Quentin Blake-cum-Dilbert in Dr. Tulp. And possibly my favourite from the whole show was Travis Lampe’s Regretter, which gives a Nicholas Guerin moody narrative a hint of 1950s US cereal box.
Scott C, “Dr. Tulp”
The Idol Hours runs until December 1st, and can be found in Westbourne Park. Direct your web-terminus to http://www.londonmiles.com/ in order to best equip yourself with relevant info-nuggets.
- London Art Fair 2015: Review
- Art Listings
- Imaginary Friends
- Made In Britain – Art Exhibition, London Miles Gallery
- Head Down It’s Sure To Be A Eccentric Night!