Wednesday to Saturday 11:00-17:00
The annual summer show at The Shrimp Factory, Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery’s space in Nevlunghavn, Norway brings together the work of British artist Lee Simmonds and Paris-based artist Rebecca Brodskis who both explore the possibilities of figurative painting through distinctive styles and colour palettes. While Simmonds embraces spontaneity, favouring quick, energetic brushstrokes that imbue his compositions with a quivering, dreamlike quality, Brodskis’ portraits are hauntingly still and controlled, drawn against neutral, block colour backgrounds. As such, the exhibition initiates an intriguing artistic dialogue, highlighting visual dichotomies and unexpected parallels between the works.
Over the last few months, Simmonds has embraced more experimentation in his practice, refining his drawing skills and utilising a new colour palette to create a captivating series of works that exhibit a confident playfulness. He has also started to incorporate more of his personal experiences into the work, adding a sense of vulnerability to his imagined scenes. Love in the Age of Digital Capitalism, for example, was inspired by the artist’s ‘hapless experience of internet dating and it’s alienating dichotomy between capitalism and so-called romantic compatibility.’ He refers specifically to a new feature on the dating app Hinge whereby your most compatible partners can only become aware that you’ve liked them when you have sent them a ‘rose’ which the user is required to buy. As with many of Simmonds’ paintings, the visual narrative plays out in a surreal, dream world where the edges become blurred and watery, figures and forms melting into one another.
While the artist typically employs vibrant hues and comedic, melodramatic gestures, there are often macabre elements that create an underlying sense of unease or even horror. This is perhaps most obvious in the painting entitled Crossed Keys in which a man appears to be dancing with a grim-reaper type figure on a pathway lit by strings of bulbs that cuts through a gothic style forest. In this piece, as with many of Simmond’s other works, the creative process is left intentionally visible through rough brushstrokes and overlapping lines. This has the effect of allowing the viewer to understand how the image has been made while adding a further layer to the narrative. In the piece entitled Cross-dominance, for example, the raw reworking of previous attempts accentuate the protagonist’s turmoil and sense of chaos. ‘The more I learn from my painting practice, the more I become passionate about the material of paint and somewhat reactionary to the burgeoning digital age of art,’ says the artist. ‘Therefore, whenever mistakes or gravitational interference occur, I aim to preserve these instances as much as possible to document the fraught human endeavour between body and material.’
By contrast, Brodskis’ portraits are the result of the slow, considered process of oil painting which requires the artist to wait for one layer of paint to dry before she can apply the next. As such her compositions are precise and graphical in style. She paints people she knows or passes by on the street, but rather than working with models or from photographs, each portrait is drawn from memory and assembled in a composition that often focuses around a specific colour and/or physical gesture. The works teeter between the familiar and the strange, the conscious and the unconscious worlds. For example, the painting entitled Le joueur d'échecs (The chess player) depicts a man with his hands clasped as he looks into the distance. Even without the implication of the title, we recognise this gesture as one of confidence and control, but at the same time, we get the sense of something being hidden or held back.
This evocation of mystery relates to Brodskis’ interest in cinema and storytelling more generally. Similarly to Simmonds, she creates a space in which the natural order of things is distorted by the removal of ‘reality’ or context, opening up greater narrative possibilities. The painting L'interprète (The interpreter), for example, depicts a woman with her hands crossed behind her head as she also gazes off the edge of the canvas, her eyes blank and unemotional. Another painting depicts two similar looking women in an impossibly acrobatic pose. They appear to be providing support for one another by holding onto each other’s hands, but at the same time, it’s difficult to discern where one body ends and the other begins. Both of these works possess a deep sense of melancholy that permeates much of Brodskis’ work and relates to her ongoing explorations of identity and performance. It’s interesting to note, for example, that many of the portraits in this series are titled by the person’s occupation rather than name, referring to our tendency to make judgements based on certain categories or stereotypes. However, by imagining these characters in a decontextualised, surreal space, Brodskis liberates our perspective and encourages a more considered kind of contemplation.
Through their distinct processes and styles, Simmonds and Brodskis create highly unique compositions that explore the complexities of human existence. In this way, Tête à tête serves not only as a conversation between these two artists and their work, but also as an invitation for viewers to imaginatively engage with and interpret the paintings through the lens of their own experience.