Imagine you have climbed up a damp hillside and entered a dark underground chamber in a temple high in the Andes with black birds swirling overhead. Ahead of you, with dazzling brilliance, hanging on the walls and in the centre of the room are textiles which appear to be woven with gold, the most precious metal of the Aztecs.
The birds overhead are a rook and a raven and the textiles are the work of the Columbian artist Olga De Amaral at the exhibition “Alchemy” in the Rook and Raven Gallery in London where her work from 1990 to the present day is on display. Now in her 80’s, it is astonishing that this is only her second solo exhibition in London and that her work is not as well known here as elsewhere in Europe or in the Americas. Her work is beautiful, timeless, reflective, tactile and fascinating to examine in detail as it changes with the light; it is contemporary but has the threads of older civilisations running through it as De Amarel explores our perception of history through art, the intertwining of colours, forms and materials, and references the landscape and cultural history of her homeland.
Amarel takes a linen base and transforms it with materials including gesso, paint and gold leaf which never tarnishes and provides the works with their rich brilliance. At a distance, it appears quite thin and delicate; but the reality is that it is thick, multi-layered and highly textural. The display has been carefully curated with examples of her work from the last twenty five years hanging on the walls, surrounding the Estelas Series of 2007 which some consider to be her most significant series.
A few doors away, at Lazarides Rathbone, another artist reflects on history and culture in an entirely different way. Here images are created on old timber boards, full of holes. As an uninvited “Pervasive” artist, JR creates art in streets in the slums in Paris, the Middle East, Africa or the favelas of Brazil as he takes art to people who have no opportunity to experience it and also helps them find their own talents by involving them in creating it.
His exhibition includes works from his UNFRAMED Ellis Island Series – which, using archive material, brings to life the hardships which emigrants endured to seek their futures in the new world of the United States of America, a very topical subject given what is happening in Europe at the moment – and Les Bosquets, recording his work in collaboration with the New York Ballet including a period as a choreographer with a photograph of Opera de Paris ballet dancers shot on the roof of the Paris Opera House creating sinister eyes watching you.
JR’s exhibition is supplemented by a newly-published monograph of his work and by the premier of a short film “Les Bosquets” as part of the London Film Festival, inspired by the 2005 riots in the French ghettos.
Two very different views of society and culture, and a happy coincidence that the two exhibitions can be seen together.