Imagine a table with no guests; plates and glasses in disarray, the only trace of clattering dishes and tinkling laughter evident in rumpled napkins and breadcrumbs strewn across used cutlery. There are faces, and they look down upon the scene, but they do not sit at the table, nor are they of the sitters of that table, but rather, faces of what might have been, of imagined guests in the minds eye of the creator. Exploring notions of changeability, transience and the sublime, ArtEco Gallery, London, is proud to present its new group exhibition Four Seasons, featuring works by Emer O'Brien, Juliette Mahieux Bartoli and Mathew Tom.
Dublin-born Emer O'Brien's The Four Seasons consists of a series of photographs depicting the passing of time. Inspired by the Dutch Masters still life paintings after a trip to Amsterdam in 2011 as well as Gabriel Axil's Babette's Feast, the work combines O'Brien's interests in installation and performance. O'Brien has staged a series of indulgent meals, hosted at a long trestle table in her studio. With the walls blacked out, these gatherings have an intimate atmosphere, and, with the revellers gone, leave the empty table and dregs of food and drink nestled in this dark, quiet space. O'Brien then documents these settings. The De Walvisch Cultureship commissioned the first such image in the series the De Walvisch Soup Salon, Dec 2011," she explains. "I have been attending the Salon dinners of artist friends Zatorski & Zatorski since 2007, and in December 2011 was asked by them to make portraits of the Salon Members. Rather than turn my camera upon the individual members I proposed photographing their place settings at the table set out like a Dutch 17th-century still life that one eats for the inaugural Salon on the Walvisch Culturship. I had for some time longed to photograph a table with these smaller intimate and original details absorbed into a larger conciliation while alluding to things and conversations now passed. "In this sense, O'Brien's photographs become portraits of times and people at once absent and present - their mark left, like fingerprints, in the evidence of what once was. Here, in twelve analogue negatives carefully stitched together, The Four Seasons is presented to the viewer as a landscape of sorts, or rather, a tablescape.
For Franco-Italian artist Juliette Mahieux Bartoli, Four Seasons is as much a modern theme as it is a classical one. "Our perception of time is a fascinating subject because it is a vital factor in our perception of reality," she muses. Presenting a four-part series of oil paintings, Mahieux Bartoli explores one woman in four different poses, each angle representing the embodiment of the four seasons, creating an annual cycle. "In this way I explore the understanding of the four seasons as four finite segments of an infinite cycle," she explains. The pose of the woman is frozen, statuesque, yet indicating imminent movement - for Mahieux Bartoli, this mirrors the way in which each season exists for only a limited amount of time, destined to end, just as it is to return. "The nature of the seasons is to mutate one into the next, like stills in a rolling film, set to repeat ad infinitum, momentarily static and yet part of a greater sequence."
Mathew Tom, on the other hand, presents charcoal and gauche on paper works, Guru II, exploring his interest in the juxtaposition between spirituality and materialism. "After a period of time living in India, I questioned my desire and need to believe in something," he explains. "However, I could not find what I was looking for, but instead realised that the search was what I was really after." Finding inspiration in the Portuguese word Saudade, the vague and constant desire for something that does not, and probably cannot, exist, Tom created his Guru. "He represents questions of power, wealth, religious, the real and the imaginary and the cloudiness between them," he explains.
The works of these three artists create an intriguing interplay in the explorations and investigations of the four seasons - what they share is the portrayal, not of what is evident, but what is not evident - a table of food that has been eaten, ravished, finished, and the evidence of people who are not there, transient like the seasons themselves, ever changing, ever in flux, desiring what is at once attainable and unattainable, forever at the crux of what TS Eliot called 'the still point of the turning world - neither from nor towards, neither flesh nor fleshless'. For there, he would have told us, at the still point, 'there the dance is'.