In: figurative painting

The Prado, the Reina Sofía, the Thyssen-Bornemisza. If you are travelling to Madrid, those are the museums you will most likely visit. They are, of course, a must-see.  But the city is packed with interesting museums and galleries outside this so-called Golden Triangle of Art. There are hundreds of things to see, but today I am focusing on a small exhibition in one of my favourite spots, the ABC Museum of Drawing and Illustration.

The museum building, a former beer factory built in the nineteenth century, hosts the ABC Collection, which includes nearly 200,000 artworks that sum up a century of graphic art in Spain. One of their exhibition programmes, Connections, invites artists linked to the world of drawing to develop a project for the museum, taking as its starting point works from the ABC Collection and the Santander Collection.

Photo: Museo ABC.

Photo: Museo ABC.

The latest edition of Connections presents the work of Madrid-based artist Marina Vargas (Granada, 1980), who exhibits Fate Lines, a project inspired by a tarot session with a Cuban “Santera”. The artist reinterprets nine tarot figures in her very original and well-defined vocabulary, in which different referents –such as Baroque, Pop, Surrealism, and Symbolism— coexist.

Left: a. t. c. (Ángeles Torner Cervera) Blanco y Negro cover, 2th november, 1930 . Colección ABC. Right: Alcora Royal Factory vases. Second period (1749-1786). Colección Banco Santander.

Left: a. t. c. (Ángeles Torner Cervera) Blanco y Negro cover, 2th november, 1930 . Colección ABC. Right: Alcora Royal Factory vases. Second period (1749-1786). Colección Banco Santander.

The exhibition only occupies one small room at the museum, where Vargas’s giant tarot cards (they  are more than 2 metres tall) are the main attraction, capturing the viewer’s eye with their intricate details. The works the artist has taken for inspiration are a pair of eighteenth-century ornamental ceramic vases made in the Royal Factory of Alcora (Valencian Community) and a 1930 cover of the Spanish magazine Blanco y Negro. Both the vases and the cover are linked to the designs in the Spanish playing cards, which are mixed with those in the Tarot de Marseille in Vargas’s works.

Marina Vargas studied Fine Art at the University of Granada, and her work has been shown, among other places, in New York, Mexico, La Habana and Milan. She uses different media to explore her many interests, which include religion, symbolism, and identity. I am particularly fascinated by her sculptural work around the idea of classical beauty, such as the pieces featured in her 2015 exhibition Nor Animal Neither Angel, at CAC Málaga.

Marina Vargas, 'Nueve de copas' ['Nine of Cups'], 2016

Marina Vargas, ‘Nueve de copas’ [‘Nine of Cups’], 2016

In the case of her tarot cards, everything starts with a digital drawing where Vargas combines different images. She then transfers this to a wood panel using graphite and proceeds to apply paint. However, she returns to drawing over and over during the process, as can be seen in a couple of cards which the artist has left unfinished.

That is precisely the most interesting aspect of Fate Lines: that it offers the viewer the opportunity to learn more about the artist’s process. Besides the aforementioned works, the exhibition also includes a video of the tarot session that inspired the series, the images and documents that Vargas used during her research, and a collage that developed in her studio walls while she worked on the pieces.

Marina Vargas, ‘Siete de oros’ [‘Seven of Gold’], 2016.

Georges Braque, André Breton, Salvador Dalí, and Leonora Carrington are some of the artists that were inspired by the Tarot de Marseille. For Marina Vargas it becomes the perfect medium to explore her interest in symbolism. But her own language is so powerful that it not only modifies, but completely transmutes the traditional images, while at the same time the signs of her destiny are assimilated into her own particular language.


Marina Vargas. Fate Lines. Museo ABC (Amaniel 29-31, Madrid). 17 Jun – 20 Nov 2016.

 

Inclusivity vs. exclusivity and talent vs. elitism are some of the core values of The Unit London Gallery, located on the trendy Wardour Street. Continuing with their goal of bringing real talents closer to the public, the gallery is proudly presenting the first major London exhibition of Jake Wood-Evans, a Hastings-based artist whose works evoke faded memories and spectres of a past time, and often depict disintegrating and dissolving entities.

Born in Devon in 1980, Wood-Evans studied Fine Art at Falmouth University and was subsequently awarded a scholarship from the Royal Academy to study at the Prado Museum in Madrid. Previously based in Brighton, he currently lives and works in Hastings. Very attached to the paintings that inspire him, Wood-Evans does consider himself a figurative painter, and I would also call him an educator.

Jake Wood-Evans, ‘Lady Sunderland, after Reynolds’, 2016. Oil on linen, 220x135cm. Image: jakewoodevans.com.

This exhibition, entitled Subjection & Discipline, not only introduces Wood-Evans’ work, but also that of the two painters who inspire it: Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) and Henry Raeburn (1756-1832). Taking inspiration from 18th-century painters, Wood-Evans’ unique, historically ambiguous style produces images that are both unsettling and beautiful. Stressing the complexity of the feelings that his referents arise in him, he adds a new layer of heavier sensations and understanding to those paintings. He blurs the boundaries of figurative painting and drawing, creating a sort of beautiful accident that has a framed purpose.

“Faces are defiled and figures appear as apparitions. Subjects range from a ghostly vision of a society lady to a fading portrait of a once proud general and grotesquely disfigured admiral. Viewed together, the body of work is eerily reminiscent of an art collection of a great estate in the early years of the British Empire, but while the haunting redactions of once-heroic subjects might suggest the correcting gaze of a postcolonial sensibility, Wood-Evans’ interest lies more with the original artists and process than with the specific subject.” (The Unit London)

Jake Wood-Evans, 'Portrait of Sir Duncan Campbell, after Raeburn', 2016. Oil on linen, 147x118cm. Image: jakewoodevans.com.

Jake Wood-Evans, ‘Portrait of Sir Duncan Campbell, after Raeburn’, 2016. Oil on linen, 147x118cm. Image: jakewoodevans.com.

As I slowly walked from the first to the last painting, I felt as if the past had been affected and infected with scratches of present time. The figures in the artworks seem to be fading under the surface, as if paint wanted to hide information from the human gaze. “Eighteenth Century Ship II” and “Eighteenth Century Ship III” are the only non-human figures invaded by a human tool. Perhaps because the sea carries the present and the past, without contradictions, just like art does.

“Portrait of a Woman in Red” almost transcends into reality and exudes the perfume of elegance, flesh, reality and oil paint. The past is alive and tangible in Wood-Evans’s paintings. My favorite was “Lady Bampfylde, after Joshua Reynolds”, but the one that most impressed me was “Lady Skipwith”, after a portrait by the same painter. Romanticism seemed macabre for a moment, and the present was, indeed, nothing but a scribble of the past.

Jake Wood-Evans, 'Eighteenth Century Ship 2', 2016. Oil on linen, 163x122cm. Image: jakewoodevans.com.

Jake Wood-Evans, ‘Eighteenth Century Ship 2’, 2016. Oil on linen, 163x122cm. Image: jakewoodevans.com.

By scrubbing, scratching and erasing certain areas while building up others, Wood-Evans’ paintings are physically pushed and pulled out of the canvas. Thick layers of paint contrast with saturated oil on canvas, often laying the grain bare. His powerful use of light emerges from a loose and instinctive application of paint. Each work bears the marks of his journey and are just as fascinating when viewed up close as they are when viewed in their entirety. Wood-Evans’ haunting works are both reminiscent of the pillaged originals while uncovering a psychological depth which encourages the viewer to look beyond the surface of the canvas and question the records of history.

Jake Wood-Evans. Subjection & Discipline. The Unit London Gallery. 19 August-11 September 2016. Monday-Sunday, from 11am to 7pm.

Usually exhibited in a corner, near a large painting by Francis Bacon, Andrew Wyeth’s My Young Friend (1970) is often overlooked by visitors at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. Looking a bit too sober among its neighbours, and being the only work by Wyeth in the collection, this austere portrait has always had a certain alien quality. This is perhaps due to the public’s lack of acquaintance with the work of the legendary American artist, a situation that the exhibition Wyeth: Andrew and Jamie in the Studio, organised by the Thyssen-Bornemisza in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum, seeks to end.

Andrew Wyeth, My Young Friend, 1970. Tempera on Masonite, 81.3 x 63.5 cm. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. © Andrew Wyeth, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.

More than sixty works by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) and his son Jamie (1946), some never previously exhibited in public, shape this first retrospective of the Wyeths in Europe. It is, therefore, a unique opportunity to discover the multiple points of connection between the lives and work of two of the main representatives of twentieth-century American Realism.

The exhibition was conceived by curator Timothy J. Standring as an intimate artistic conversation around shared subjects and interests, such as friends, neighbours, animals, familiar settings in Pennsylvania and Maine, and the nude figure.

The strength of the display lies precisely in this decision of grouping the works thematically, juxtaposing both artists’ perspectives and thus allowing visitors to question the commonplace notion of Realism being an objective and detached image of reality. The continuous dialogue between father and son highlights not only their joint sensibilities, but also the originality of their individual visions. While Andrew’s images show his interest in everyday themes, Jamie’s gaze seeks the bizarre and the unexpected. They are both deeply engaged with their immediate surroundings, but retain their own personal points of view and approach the blank surface in radically different ways.

Jamie Wyeth, A.W. working on Piss Series, 2007. Acrylic, oil paint, and watercolor on cardboard. 121.9 x 76.2 cm. The Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection. © Jamie Wyeth.

This becomes particularly evident when comparing Andrew’s solid, more naturalistic depictions of his neighbours-turned-models with Jamie’s expressive use of white to create his ghost-like portraits of celebrities such as Rudolf Nureyev and Andy Warhol. The latter is perhaps one of the most beautiful and poignant depictions of the late artist, a haunting image that stays with you long after you leave the museum.

This journey through the Wyeths’ lives, interests and places that inspired them is complemented by The Secret Sits (Wyeth Wonderland), a display of photographs by Joséphine Douet, who followed Andrew Wyeth’s steps in his native city of Chadds Ford (Pennsylvania, USA) and captured her own vision of the artist’s reality.

This comprehensive retrospective, which risks being overlooked like the portrait of Andrew Wyeth’s young friend, is not only a rare chance to see the works of these two artists in Europe, but also an unmissable event for those who regularly visit the Thyssen. By contextualising this delicate female portrait, the Spanish museum has successfully illuminated an obscure corner of its collection, enabling future visitors to evoke the whole universe that the Wyeths wanted to express through their art when they see the painting.

Wyeth: Andrew and Jamie in the Studio and The Secret Sits (Wyeth Wonderland) run until 19 June at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, Spain.