Post-Conceptual Art Practice – New Directions – Part Two
The Grange Tower Hill Hotel, London – 1 January – 25 December 2012
William Henry, Angus Pryor, and Grant Pooke are ‘Plastic Propaganda’. Pryor a painter, and Henry a sculptor, engage through their respective disciplines in Post-Conceptual dialogue with Modernism, concerned with the potential of contemporary painting and sculpture to break through its apparent cul-de-sac. Differing formally and ‘conceptually’ their works nevertheless display a common interest in the physicality of being, through, on the one hand, Henry’s gently introspective work, and on the other Pryor’s bold campaigns. Dr Grant Pooke’s relationship with Angus Pryor and William Henry is as peripatetic writer and interviewer.
The hotel is not a gallery; the primary intentions of its itinerant inhabitants are not to study Pryor and Henry’s work, which waits with suggestions, possibilities, opportunities, questioning us tangentially, in passing, and in passing again. Creatures of our time and the moment, we are formed by the everyday – wallpaper, fabrics, cutlery, sounds, continuous infusions of taste through habitual exposure. Pryor’s work partakes of this dialogue of objects, now cacophonous, now incessantly whispered. The passing visitor, the participant on a course, the delivery driver, may not be objectively aware of his or her experience, but the physical presence of the work is felt and remembered; in an hotel the works insinuate themselves into the (un)conscious. In contrast to the ‘in your face scale’ of the work, (The Garden of Earthly Delights is 9.0 metres x 2.5 metres) the painting engages, pointedly, the corner of the eye in an initial moment of encounter prior to language. There is a sense of looking for something in and by the work, a kind of cultural burglary. He breaks into painting like a burglar in a posh house, rummaging through it, piling up stuff as he goes. The best burglary is an exercise in educated taste and antisocial behaviour. What about this? Or this, and this? His working methods, his materials, have the feel simultaneously of not quite overindulgence, and pleasure that has made the nerve ends raw.
Pryor takes his influences by the hand and wanders off with them. Using colour not as a colourist, drawing not as a draughtsman, making marks in pursuit of experiences, he submits to and encourages paint’s desire to engulf, to reach its own limits, shapes, lines, movements, directions. Seeking their places, mark, form, colour, narrative, dance together and pull apart in a repeating dialectic of form and content, the physical work arising from insecurity and assertiveness in the presence of materials.
In making his marks, all kinds of objects are (im)printed on the surface of the canvas – birds, toys, leaves, vegetables, roadkill. Impression is physical and visual, marks both impressions and giving the impression of…. Not quite mechanical reproductions, through the process of infilling of detail central to Pryor’s printing from found objects we are made to feel uncertain – there is just enough and not quite sufficient. The works are almost not painted, but still are made with paint, spread out, sorted onto the canvas. the painting technique one of pushing the stuff around, caressing and spilling, spraying and squeezing it onto and into line and shape. Wash, impasto, a blob here, a turd-like mound there , and then a line of them. Like overweight starlings before the roost, they mange to remain airborne but heavily. This is painting against the grain. Much work is done on the horizontal canvas, Pollock slowly, as it were, and then raised to the vertical. ‘The Deluge’ is a painting on a painting. Foliage and ripples are evident, and maybe sky. Pryor gathers his image toward the centre of the canvas, hemming it in with angular brackets. The detritus of the deluge floats, here a ladder, there a tin can, some leaves, a writhing ochre shape. What might be decomposing food drifts around. Perspectival depth is suggested by the projecting red and green corner of some long defunct magic carpet. The degraded deluge of commodity floats prettily; there is comfort in decadence. Pursuit of pleasure released from moral constraint may be the ultimate freedom. Our desires stare back at us from the paintings; colours seduce, paint often like skin, unreflective, soft. In ‘Love and Death’, the browns, blacks, golds, encourage a frisson of unease. In stark contrast to his sometimes luscious use of colour, the ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ is a cool monochrome. Black, white, grey, a severed hand, palm open, a toy hammerhead shark, now deflated, soft toys once the object of true delight, nothing could be so inappropriately named as this Memorial Garden. What look like hares fight in an archived frieze along the bottom of the work. Above them insects and above the insects, the toys. There is a real sense of ambivalence throughout , of clinging to a cliff-face with an almost overwhelming desire for blessed release. Pryor’s objects are in this sense defiant. The paint that smothers them draws our attention, echoes the children whose toys they once were. “Hey! Look!”. Pigmented fluid gently seduces, puts its prey at ease, settles a little death over its objects of desire; think with the body, feel with the mind. Working with the reluctance of one who feels the fear of his real desires, Pryor defies his work not to be painting.
William Henry could well be Angus Pryor’s posh relation, eccentric uncle to his working burglar. His work, as may befit an ex- city chap is polished stuff, but the polish is applied to perversity. ‘Strung up’ presents three stages of formal and metaphoric decline in an immaculately turned out presentation. Ceramic in appearance, exquisitely unplayable, elegantly distanced from its original purposes, an impeccable exterior gloss is maintained even as internal structure is in terminal decline. In their own way their denial reflects the defiance to be found in Pryor’s work; keeping up appearances disguises the struggle, disaster postponed. Plaster cast clarinets, dipped in black enamel paint, hint at betrayal in the way in which the paint has run; the internal reality of plaster again at odds with surface appearance. And are these bowed clarinets exhausted by their working life, or resting between gigs?
Unplugged is a series of electric wall sockets with plugholes effaced leaving impotent switches on surfaces reminiscent of distorted ceramic soap dishes. Elsewhere, Henry paints the metal of dysfunctional instruments – remade readymades – Trombone, French Horn, Trumpet, Euphonium, enamel black, or white. No longer bold as brass, they frustrate human intentions. Mouthpiece and valves too distant from each other to be played, they can only wait.
And through a counterpoint of artistic styles, the worlds of social class seem subtly to be undermined by a shared humanity, in this large City hotel.