Private View: Wednesday 9th of February, 6:30-9 pm (London Bridge, Speak Easy)
Swathes of translucent organza and chiffon fabric appear scrunched, draped and stretched over industrial aluminium frames, swirling with abstracted lines of text rendered in black and white with vibrant pops of colour. These works are part of American artist and former fashion designer Preston Douglas’ ongoing series CTHRUME inwhich he employs painterly gestures, digital techniques and textiles to create bold, sculptural compositions. The artist’s first UK solo exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, London Bridge -also entitled CTHRUME - takes the form of a multi-sensory experience in which viewers are invited to actively engage and contemplate their relationship to both objects and imagery.
For Preston, the artistic process begins with the collection of ephemeral materials including corporate logos, album covers, slogans, and digital imagery, or as he puts it, ‘things I love, and things I hate.’ These materials are then printed out and moved by hand across a scanner bed to create glitch-like distortions, which are further manipulated on Photoshop. However, Preston is keen to note that while he employs digital tools, his physical engagement with the work remains crucial throughout the process. He uses an iPad rather than a desktop computer to allow him to move the imagery around the screen with his fingers before printing the final work onto his chosen fabric, and refers to the printed marks as ‘contemporary brushstrokes’ in the sense that technology is both an artistic medium as well as a universal form of expression. The materials are then arranged either on paper or on a stretcher to create varying effects. In Born From Pain, for example, black and white dyed organza erupts out from the paper, extending its edges and creating a sense of depth, while Creeping Death comprises pieces of organza, satin and chiffon stitched together and stretched over an aluminium frame. The latter work, especially, conveys a sense of violence; there’s hole in the top left corner almost as if the surface has been attacked, leaving a strip of fabric hanging limply in space while the areas of deep purple and red evoke the appearance of bruising.
Significantly, many of the artworks’ titles reference either forceful physical action or emotional turmoil, which appear to reflect the artist’s gestures, but also the notion of movement or flux. This also relates to how Preston approaches the making of the work. ‘I think about the stretcher bar as a body in my practice, as if I am stretching and draping the fabric over a model standing in front of me in my studio,’ he says. As a result, all of the works have an active bodily presence that complicates our relationship to a painting as a passive image or object just as the translucent fabric creates a kind of shifting perspective in the sense that the material acts as a veil, inviting the viewer to literally look through the work to the stretcher bars and white wall behind. Meanwhile, the controlled use of colour - vibrant bursts of red and purple appear interspersed between the striking contrast of black and white - and different fabrics encourages engagement on both an emotional and tactile level.
The series and exhibition title - CTHRUME - similarly works as its own kind of provocation, commanding or daring the audience to become active by looking through both the artwork itself and the artist’s intentions. There is a degree of irony in the fact that what we encounter, ultimately, is a kind of emptiness, or in the case of the stretcher, a skeleton; in a sense, we undo the artworks by looking at them. This is perhaps most keenly felt in works such as Age of Decline where the thick aluminium frame is clearly visible behind a thin layer of chiffon, while Community Guideline features an open zipper directly at the centre of the composition, extending from top to base and revealing a glimpse of another layer of fabric behind. As Preston notes, ‘There is something sensual about the zipper’ that evokes a further provocation, this time on an even more physical level as we can relate to the sensation of unzipping, or being unzipped. Furthermore, the abstract, fluid lines and warped letters create a vortex-like effect that pulls the viewer towards the surface.
For this exhibition, Preston extends the immersive aspect of his work in an installation entitled The Path of Most Resistance, in which the viewer is able to step through the zipper into an otherworldly space enclosed by hanging fabric. The experience is heightened by an accompanying soundtrack which also reverberates throughout the gallery. In an age where we interact and perceive the world largely through the format of a screen, the complex, hybrid materiality of these works invites us to reconnect to a more embodied experience of art and space.