Newport Street Gallery in Vauxhall, pretty deserted in the snow around lunchtime today, with the latest exhibition of two new artists, English artist Rachel Howard (born 1969) and American artist John Copland, (born in 1976).
Howard’s work ‘Repetition is Trust – Via Dolorosa’ starts with an image based on the iconic photograph of Ali Shallal al-Quasi the Iraqi detainee who was tortured by US military personnel in the Abu Ghraib, standing on a box in a cruciform position, hooded and arms outstretched connected to electric wires.
Elements from the image reappear in the 14 paintings which link to the Stations of the Cross representing different points of Christ’s final journey to his crucifixion, but with one major difference. Howard’s images do not follow the traditional sequence, or indeed any sequence. They have no fixed order, no beginning, no middle and no end; they are repetitious and go round in circles. What is she saying about modern society? Return to the first study after viewing the other 14 paintings and perhaps you will understand.
The muted tones of the paintings blend with the architecture of the Newport Street Gallery, which almost takes on the atmosphere of a contemporary religious building, with its high gallery spaces into which muted light flows onto the paintings, each of which Howard aims to be ‘a place, a step, a pause, a contemplation’.
Upstairs in the upper galleries with their geometrical rooflights, John Copeland’s paintings ‘Your Heaven Looks Just Like My Hell’ is a marked contrast in style and tempo, with a theme about modern life where the same actions can be both playful and sinister, depending on the viewpoint of the viewer. Thus two couples playing in the sea can be fun or it can be threatening and groups of people eating, drinking and partying can be fun for some and unpleasant to others. He takes photographic and magazine images from the 1970′s and 80′s and manipulates them in his paintings, in a way which leaves much to the imagination, to draw in and encourage you to look and question what you see.
Two different styles, responding to the architecture of the gallery in different ways., but with a similar underlying theme about looking and questioning what you see.