IAP FINE ART
65 Roman Road
Open: Fridays 12.30-6.30pm, Saturdays 12.00-4pm
Or by arrangement: +44 (0) 870 850 5512
by RICHARD CROWE
Chris Gollon, She’s Leaving Home
, 2007, 36" x 24"
acrylic on canvas
IAP Fine Art is at 65 Roman Road, a few minutes walk eastwards from Bethnal Green Tube Station. It is just past Globe Road, and rather easy to miss, although once found it will never be forgotten. Indeed, it is a treasure trove of enigmatic and iconic painted images by Chris Gollon. He is a visionary of post-1960 culture, and his work is imbued with the consciousness of Bob Dylan, the Beatles and others. The painting reproduced below ‘Einstein & The Jealous Monk’ is based on words from ‘Desolation Row’ by Bob Dylan; and the painting above is the title of a number from the Beatles ‘Sgt. Pepper’ Album. The influence of certain Twentieth Century painters may also be discerned, chiefly Bacon, Beckman, Dali and possibly Ernst. At the same time he has looked back at the world of Spanish Art (El Greco, Ribera, Zurbaran, Goya etc.) and Literature (Cervantes) through John Lennon spectacles. He has examined the underworld of modern humanity and infused its emotional essence with his own brands of absurdity and dark humour.
Chris Gollon, Einstein & The Jealous Monk
, 2004, 60 "x 48", Mixed media on canvas
But before discussing his work I will make a short diversion for visitors to London who might wish to know that his gallery may be reached by bus. The No. 8 bus traverses London from Victoria Station in the west, via the respectability of Piccadilly and Berkeley Square, through the madding crowds of Oxford Street, past the solidity of the Bank of England and Liverpool Street Station, and finally loses itself in the tin-pot obscurity of East London. And on your journey through East London you may notice that a few of the mean and tawdry shop fronts of Bethnal Green Road have been claimed by the artistic community. East London is certainly a place in the midst of unique transition and transformation. The financiers reclaimed its obsolete shipping district and raised the towers of Canary Wharf; the artists braved its squalor and are making it fashionable; the athletes are soon to astonish its murkiest backwaters with the splendour of an Olympic Village and Stadium. And this is not by any means irrelevant to IAP Fine Art or Chris Gollon. Over a decade ago they were amongst the first to see its potential as a centre of artistic activity and turned the little shop into an art gallery. ‘They’ are artist Chris and his manager/agent/friend David Tregunna. When I spent an afternoon at the Gallery recently it became obvious that this is an Art Gallery with a difference. Instead of the usual gallery where there is a continual stream of new artists exhibiting, this one is almost completely dedicated one artist (with the exception of a few works by Maggie Hambling.) It is therefore a gallery which makes sure that the artist has a continuous income, and should be commended for doing so.
Chris Gollon, Stations of the Cross (II): Jesus Takes Up His Cross (Final Version)
2002 mixed media on canvas
Chris Gollon, already an established figure in British art, is exploding onto the scene as a major force in sacred painting, and he is doing it very much in East London. Besides the exhibition at IAP Fine Art he is completing a series of 14 Stations of the Cross for St John’s Church just around the corner from his gallery. An example ‘Jesus Takes Up His Cross’ is reproduced above. The Dean of this venerable grade-one listed church discovered in Chris a visionary with powerful spiritual insight into the human condition, and asked him if he would undertake these traditional paintings depicting the last hours in the life of Christ. Chris is working six days a week, all day and half the night to complete the Stations before Good Friday, when they are to be used at the 10 am Service. He is working so hard that his shoulder is wearing out under the strain, and his doctor has to administer regular injections to allow him to continue the work. I intend to write an update when they are unveiled. Watch this space.
The exhibition at the IAP gallery consists of 27 of his recent works. These are chiefly acrylic paintings on canvas, but there are also monoprints, silkscreens and etchings.
Chris Gollon, Return of The Prodigal Son
, 2007 40" x 30" acrylic on canvas
Human figures, and more importantly human emotions, form the central focus of his vision. This is so marked that even the inanimate objects which he depicts are, to a greater or lesser extent, invested with human emotions. This leads to absurd humour in his still life paintings. It also leads to a complex interplay between his mode of representing forms and the emotions with which he invests them. To simplify this I will deal with his mode of representation first. The human forms (certainly in his more recent works) are realised monumentally, with great emphasis on a combination of solidity of form and simplification of form, and are rendered using strong tonal contrasts. His depiction of flesh is extremely sensitive, especially in the use of tones of blue, mauve and purple, which are built up using layers of washes, passages of dry-brush and areas of impasto.
He has mastered a vast range of representational consistencies: from the ‘rock-solid’ to the flowing or melting; from the structurally well-formed to the misshapen or crumpled; from the densely opaque to the airily translucent; from the ruggedly textured to the glassy smooth; from the gnarled or leathery to the most delicately skin-toned; from the convincingly earthly to the equally convincingly ghostly or ethereal. And he achieves the transition from physical to metaphysical with consummate ease. I believe that it is here that he achieves his greatest perceptual insights. On the other hand the melting forms bear a resemblance to those found in well-known works by Salvador Dali. The influence of psychology, and the interpretation of dreams, which are prominent in Dali’s work, are by no means the overriding concerns in Gollon’s work. His artistic reality is not set on ‘dream-mode,’ but there is an aspect of dream in his work. This is counterbalanced by a strong sense of ordinary, everyday reality which is often set in an imaginary present. Interestingly, different parts of a single Gollon painting (or even different parts of a single figure) may deal with different aspects of human experience: present, past, dream, memory, emotion etc. I will deal with this further on in relation to physical and temporal ‘points of reference.’ Gollon’s post-modern connection to the Surrealists goes beyond Dali, and extends to Max Ernst. It is possibly here that he may have found a kindred spirit as Ernst combines entities representing differing temporal and experiential points of reference combined in absurd interrelationships.
Gollon’s varying consistencies of materiality and ethereality lead naturally to the second issue – that of emotional content. Rock-like forms may be imbued with hard and callous emotions. Flowing or melting forms may indicate vulnerability, unhappiness or other inward experiences. This may occur in one figure where the head is rendered with greater solidly and realism, indicating a state more akin to ordinary everyday consciousness, whereas other parts of the body may be softer, more fluid or mist-like, representing deeper inward states of human experience (e.g. ‘Beyond the Horizon’ further down.)
Chris Gollon, The Contortionist
, 2007, 22" x 16" acrylic on canvas
In ‘The Contortionist’ the face is dematerialised to the point of misty ghostliness, and the eye seems to commune sublimely with the inner self. The mouth is rendered more firmly, and adds a sense of brooding. The arms are rendered more distinctly and seem to rest on a table surface – and this creates a point of reference in the present world and time (but they still have a soft, ghostly consistency.) Gollon generally creates a semblance of physical reality, and onto this he crafts semblances of deeper emotional and spiritual reality. The former may be called a ‘physical point of reference.’ This work is completely painted in tones of grey, with the aid of a roller.
Chris Gollon, Stations of the Cross (I) Jesus is Condemned to Death (Final Version)
2002, 36" x 24" mixed media on canvas
In some paintings, differing levels or states of consciousness are represented by differing structural consistencies. A good example is to be found in ‘Stations of the Cross (I) Jesus is Condemned to Death (Final Version),’ where the face of Christ is painted in almost photorealistic mode, creating an effect of great refinement, sensitivity and patience. This may be a physical point of reference. It is interesting that he has used the same real life model for the Christ figure in all 14 paintings. The figure below and to the left of Christ has a flattened, hardened, simplified and caricatured face which in resembles a mask – a persistent theme in Gollon’s work. It clearly indicates coarseness and brutality (amongst other low characteristics.) He is staring menacingly at the figure below Christ which has a more realistically human face, but which betrays a look of utter uncaring. One of the figures hanging upside down is actually wearing a mask. The figure to the right of Christ has a face which looks like a horror mask. The theme of Christ surrounded by such faces has a long history in Western painting, and an example can be found in the work of Hieronymus Bosch. Leonardo da Vinci and others did similar drawings of groups of faces representing various vices. Gollon has also produced another painting with a similar theme (The Surprise Party - City of Laughter.)
Chris Gollon, Beyond the Horizon 2006, 30" x 40" acrylic on canvas
In the painting ‘Beyond the Horizon’ a full length nude lies awkwardly on her back on an apparently hard cold stone surface. The title is taken from Bob Dylan’s recent album 'Modern Times' and the painting may relate to the following lines:-
“...It's dark and it's dreary,
I've been pleading in vain,
I'm wounded, I'm weary,
My repentance is plain,
Beyond the horizon o'er the treacherous sea,
I still can't believe that you have set aside your love for me...”
Her upper body is raised on a stone ‘pillow’ and is more tense and repressive than the lower body. Her head is raised on an upwardly strained neck and tense shoulders, and is rendered in more compact and naturalistic mode. This may be a physical point of reference which seems to extend to the rocks directly behind her head. The face betrays a look of deep sadness and even despair. The lower body is soft and misshapen to the point of deformity, expressing great unease and the extremities of hands and feet are darkened. Her toes are misshapen and her feet are splayed uncomfortably. The light line defining them (scratched with the back end of the paintbrush) flattens the forms and renders them stiff. But it is her hands that really grab our attention, and an arrow (another familiar Gollon device) points to the lower hand to emphasise this. This hand, and indeed the whole left arm, appear dark, bruised and possibly diseased. The other hand has fingers like swollen, overripe rotting bananas. Several levels of experience are dealt with from the immediate present right down to the deepest poisoned memories rendered as festering hurt and awkward unease. Thus the physical point of reference is at the same time temporal – representing the present - and the lower body may represent a less specified sense of time involving memories of past events and their attendant emotions.
Gollon’s painting of figures bear a resemblance to those of El Greco in their visionary perceptiveness. This also extends to El Greco’s ‘de-materialisation’ of physical objects. However, Gollon has also absorbed something of Dali’s distortion of form, which is at the same time rendered in varying consistencies, whether they be soft, melting, glassy-smooth etc.
The rocky outcrops surrounding the bay are rendered with harsh, hard textures, and cold tones. As stated above, the most rugged- and harsh-textured rocks appear just behind, and apparently almost touching, the head of the female nude thus emphasising the physical point of reference. The water is painted in lurid and acrid tones of viridian, and is placed just above the horizontal body of the nude, and clearly related in terms of its mood. Indeed it may be possible to compare the head with its hard thoughts the rocks with its hardness; and the lower body with the bay as a symbolic ‘pool’ of unhappiness and pain. The surrounding hardness also emphasises by contrast the soft mangled human inner life. The moon is full and hangs low in the sky – cold, hard and calcinous.
Chris Gollon, Ms Johnson, 2007, acrylic on canvas Size: 20" x 16" Private collection
In other works Gollon creates the illusion of monumental solidity, for example in the structure of a head, and then purposefully collapses or distorts the form in areas of the face to suggest complex emotional states. We become aware of the brash external mask that a person may present to the world, behind which are to be found a complexity of conflicting emotions. We find dark humour in this, possibly because we recognise the complexity our own imperfect humanity. Gollon has a way of winkling out the deepest of human emotions. In this sense he becomes a skilful exponent of human vulnerability.
In the painting of ‘Ms Johnson’ her nose is rendered very definitely, and so, to a lesser extent, is her chin. Her forehead and hair are flattened out giving a comical appearance. The large glasses (a recurrent device in Gollon’s work) allow him to magnify, emphasise and distort her eyes. These are disconcertingly looking in opposite directions - but somehow we are sure that she is sizing us up. She is the perennial spinster, the formidable secretary, the maiden aunt. At the same time her eyes have a vulnerable moist look. She appears formidable but somehow endears us with her deep emotion. Her big moist lips show her passionate nature, but at the same time they are somewhat defensively ready to dismiss us. She may be thinking: “I know that I am middle-aged and beyond my prime, but I am still a passionate loving creature - but if you cross me I will cut you dead.” Gollon again exposes a conflicting muddle of emotions without cruelty and with humour and humanity.
Chris Gollon, Still Life with Guitar and Fish
, 2007 18" x 24" 2007, acrylic on canvas
‘Still Life with Guitar and Fish’ shows Gollon’s treatment of this genre. The guitar, fish and earthenware bowl appear in other paintings in various darkly humorous interrelationships. The guitar seems to betray a high opinion of itself – after all it is the most successful musical instrument of modern times. It seems to be rather ‘down on’ the humble bowl of olives. The shapes and lines in the background emphasise this ‘attitude.’ The fish has realised who is the winner in this contest, and may to be trying to ingratiate itself into affections of the guitar – not wanting to risk a confrontation. We recognise in this as a familiar human situation.
Gollon has clearly looked at Spanish “Bodegón” Painting (in Spanish this refers to still life paintings, depicting pantry items, such as victuals, game, and drink.) Unlike their Dutch counterparts which are often sensuous, these are austere and even surreal. Examples of Bodegón paintings by Zurbaran show items of crockery ranged side by side on a shelf. They are painted with such austerity of mood and intensity of observation that one may find oneself comparing these auspicious items in a humorous way. Gollon has combined all these elements in his own still-life paintings and humanised the items with darkly humorous results. Items are often ranged in rows and engage in social relationships. In some of his compositions, the earthenware bowls (of singularly Spanish appearance) swell to great sizes, and gang up against the other items. In yet other paintings Gollon has groups of wine glasses ganging up against a single wine glass etc.
Chris Gollon’s website is http://www.chrisgollon.com
It includes a comprehensive catalogue of all his present and past paintings at http://www.chrisgollon.com/Works/browse/cat/Paintings.html
His prints may be found at http://www.chrisgollon.com/Works/browse/cat/Prints.html
In conclusion, Chris Gollon has proved that painting has never been dead, nor was it ever ill or even slightly indisposed. It merely rested for a while after the passing of the great 20th Century Masters - to look back with respect, to consider and appraise their achievement, and to forge a pathway into the future. And those who failed to understand this moment of stillness imagined that the great tradition of painting had come to an end! What gross incomprehension! What rank short-sightedness! What an embarrassing lack of common sense!
Chris Gollon is such an artist. He used the moment of stillness to realise the potential of this legacy. He is neither at the mercy of Investors nor at the whim of Directors. The Church used to be the oppressor of artists is now allowing his consciousness full freedom. He has seen vistas where the masters saw glimpses; connections where artists were divided into groups; a coherent individual vision of perception where this was blunted. He presents insight and ideas which make us laugh with him at the infinite creative possibilities welling up within, presenting us with a vision of what humanity can be.