Jerwood Arts is a charitable foundation based in South London which funds and empowers early-career creative – across theatre, music, literature and visual arts. Each year the gallery hosts Jerwood Solo Presentations, at the Jerwood Space in Bermondsey, an exhibition of work by some of the young artists they have supported. This week is your last chance to catch the 2019 edition.
This year the show features work by three artists: Kitty Clark, Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom, and Sofia Mitsola. Each of them has been given a room and commissioned to create new work for the show. The work is ostensibly disparate, and includes sculpture, video, paintings, and sound – but each artist has something timely to say about the particular issue their work addresses, deliberately or not, and for this reason the grouping feels as though it makes sense.
Visitors to the exhibition encounter Kitty Clark’s display first. Hers is the most open of the three rooms, and benefits from being in what is effectively the gallery’s foyer (to get to the café you have to walk through the display). It consists of a number of sculptural objects and recorded voices, and its effect is determined both by the way in which the viewer decides to engage with it and the viewer’s position in relation to the display’s constituent parts. It is because of this that it has a sort of elasticity, despite the obviously static nature of the objects themselves.
Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom’s work is in the exhibition’s second gallery, and consists of speakers and a taken-apart (or yet to be put together?) drum kit, arranged with a distinctly curatorial deliberateness. It is the sort of work that a certain type of person likes to rail against and its subtlety might well be mistaken for inaccessibility. But Boakye-Yiadom’s very modern response to an instrument which has existed in some form for thousands of years helps provide the impetus for a moment of reflection and thoughtfulness.
However, it is the work of Sofia Mitsola that really stands out. She has presented six new paintings; the largest, Chariot, is over 3 metres long, while the smallest, Toy Sphinx, is only 40 centimeters tall, but this takes nothing away from the display’s cohesiveness.
A recent graduate of the Slade School of Art, Mitsola has won prizes named after both William Coldstream and Euan Uglow, the two most famous proponents of the so-called Euston Road School. The legacy of those two artists is evident in her work, with figures painted precisely and deliberately. But whereas Coldstream and Uglow were concerned with realism, Mitsola’s work is imbued with a surrealism they would surely have rejected.
Greek and Egyptian mythological creatures form the subject matter of almost all of Mitsola’s work. Though they are made-up creatures, these hybrid figures – part animal, part human – say more about contemporary life, with all its contradictions, paradoxes, and ambiguities, than an overworked Coldstream nude, attempting to depict a non-existent reality, ever could.
Laughter in the Dark (2019), which references Nabokov’s 1932 novel, provokes a particularly visceral response. Like much of Nabokov’s work, Laughter in the Dark is about a middle-aged man’s lust for a teenage girl. The painting depicts a young girl – presumably the novel’s 17-year-old protagonist Margot – who appears seductive at first glance, but whose facial expression, on closer inspection, reveals an adolescent vulnerability.
This notion that things are not as they first appear, perhaps because they are more complicated than we like to admit, and because we have a tendency to make assumptions about the way things are or the way things ought to be, is a feature of much of Mitsola’s work. Her ability to convey this intelligently would be enough to make her a brilliant artist. The fact that she is also an excellent colourist, and applies paint with a phenomenal lightness of touch, means that she will undoubtedly become one of our most important young artists.
Plenty of people have suggested that nothing new or exciting can be done with paint. Conversely, some critics have suggested that other mediums, such as video or sound, are indicative of a lack of artistry. Both statements are patently false, and the three artists in this show provide ample evidence to that effect – it is well worth seeing.
Words by Jack Head
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