Louis Bennett: Tears Like Northern Rain

9 - 31 October 2020 London

Private View: Thursday 8 October, 6:30-9pm

London (LONDON BRIDGE)

 

Dramatic stylised scenes rendered in a striking contrast of natural and acid tones recall the bold aesthetics of comic books and Pop art with vivid contemporary perspective. This is the work of Lancashire-born, London-based artist Louis Bennett whose practice explores personal narratives within the shifting context of British history and politics. Tears Like Northern Rain, the artist’s debut London solo exhibition and the inaugural show at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery’s new, expanded “Speak Easy” space at London Bridge, presents an arresting collection of new paintings, each depicting its own narrative whilst also expressing a wider generational sense of anxiety and displacement.

 

Drawing on his experiences of growing up in Lancaster, a former post-industrial slave port, Bennett’s work is particularly informed by legacies of colonialism in contemporary Britain. His process typically begins with the collection of ephemeral materials, such as old magazines and books, which are selected for their historical resonance. Whilst elements of these materials may provide visual or atmospheric inspiration, both the composition and narrative of each painting develops spontaneously, creating a palpable sense of rawness and intimacy. This method of working also expresses Bennett’s fascination with the concept of collage and ‘its capacity to expand the imaginative scope of painting and transform the meaning of an image through the process of juxtaposition.’ Drawing on a wide range of references from literature, poetry, politics, cinema, artistic movements, pop culture and personal experience, each painting offers a rich, multi-layered viewing experience.

 

One of the most distinctive elements of Bennett’s work is the juxtaposing use of colour to create a visual world that is both nostalgic and fiercely contemporary, familiar and disturbingly surreal. This is perhaps most obvious in the artist’s depiction of people in contrast to their surroundings. Usually positioned in the foreground as the dramatic focal point of the painting, Bennett’s figures are highly expressive but drained of colour; their skin, painted in cold hues of blue, appearing almost ghoulish against lurid shades of yellow and green. Again, this style references aesthetics of the past, in particular comics from the seventies through to the nineties as well as Italian horror films, but it also expresses the artist’s perspective of contemporary Britain which he sees as ‘a country in the grip of a toxic, reactionary nationalism; a Victorian throwback that seeks to lionize and whitewash a problematic and violent history.’ In this light, the colours, characters, landscapes and architectural features become symbolic of the nation’s maladies and directly subvert picturesque, pastoral scenes that remain imprinted in the collective conscience as visions of Britain.

 

Through the reframing of historic representations of place, Bennett also challenges the art world’s London-centric attitude, which has traditionally overlooked and undervalued northern creative practices, and can also be linked to the disownment of the country’s dark histories. As such, the exhibition's title Tears Like Northern Rain seeks to situate Bennett’s work within a cultural and literal northern landscape, whilst also emphasising the emotional undertones of this body of work in which personal narratives and explorations of mental health play out against the backdrop of wider social and political contexts. Presented together, the paintings create the unsettling effect of a feverish dream, out of which vivid scenes arise and imprint themselves on the viewer’s memory.