Have you ever been so in awe, so wowed by a piece of art that you just had to stop and take it all in. This particular time it was the scale, the brushstrokes, the smell of oil paint in the air, the texture, the layers building it up so it appeared as if the painting had just emerged from the surface of the canvas… You feel the energy the artist had when they set brush to canvas, the action, the intent, the story, those eyes staring back at you in that quiet sanctuary of a gallery. I just sat and stared, observed, relished in the piece like you are unable to do when something is in a book or on screen.
I always adored visiting art galleries, there’s something about going into that Space that pulls me away from the real-world and transports me somewhere else; a place of reflection. I’ve always found these spaces peaceful and contemplative; they make me feel calm and safe. Galleries are the place that I have been drawn to the most, particularly during challenging times, I like the dialogue between myself as a viewer and the artist- that on some level there’s a connection to be made and I can get a glimpse into someone else’s perception. I can question or validate my own sense of the world through art.
There is one exhibition, however, that has stood out above all others, it was the ‘all too Human’ exhibition at the Tate. It truly captured the sense of our humanity, an honest and visceral account of not only out physical form but also our humanity through the eyes of some of the influential artists on my practice.
Visiting around a year ago, was so timely. I was just starting to follow my artistic path, finally embracing figures in my own work, in the midst of a renewed sense of purpose and commitment.
Walking into that space I was star struck by all of the artists that have heavily influenced over the years in one space, Paula Rego, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Jenny Saville to name just a few.
Thinking back to standing in front of a Lucien Freud self-portrait, it wasn’t just a visual representation, a painting… but an insight into the way he saw himself, the thick brushstrokes sculpted out a form on the canvas, the unflattering angle challenging you unapologetically, showing you an unedited, real and honest snapshot into his reality, into the way he saw himself- to communicate something about inhabiting the world. The sweeping, confident marks revealing facets of muted tones that merged the figure with the background texture of paint yet it held such a physical presence in the space, even on a surprisingly small scale compared to his larger figurative works. It was this piece, out of all of them, that held my gaze the longest.
As I wander through the exhibition the walls are filled with more ambitious, exciting and recognisable works, artists who persisted with the medium of paint even when it seemed to fall out of favour… Jenny Saville’s self-portrait painted on a huge scale, dominates the final room, for example. Uncompromising, unflinching and sculptural. With paint spatter mimicking something quite violent, bluish tones contrasting subtly against the red and orange hues making the flesh look more raw, large brushstrokes carving out form on the surface of the canvas with lips that appear wet with beautiful highlights breathing life into the image that is so often linked to ‘meat on a butcher’s block’. But again as I step back and observe I notice the eyes… that within this bold, confident piece there is a vulnerability… something all too human.
I could talk deeply about each and every one of the artists I admire but perhaps I will save that for another time. For now, it has been wonderful to look back retrospectively and remember the joy of visiting this exhibition… I must remember to seek out more opportunities to engage with art.
What’s the last exhibition you went to see that captured you?