February 28th, 2012
by Mark Pembrey
Dreams of Here: New work by Julian Bell, Tom Hammick and Andrej Jackowski
Until 10 June (closed 23-27 April)
Prints & Drawings Gallery
Three artists with close links to Sussex have been drawn together for an exhibition in which sense of place and exploration of consciousness emerge as central themes. Three artists, three rooms, a video interview with the artist in the corner of each. Dreams of Here is an exhibition that invites you to compare working methods and ideas of space, figure and memory.
Entering the first room, Julian Bell’s realist paintings of banal scenes from contemporary life line the walls, painted with a dry-brush technique and an even drier sense of humour. There’s no rhyme or reason to choices of subject such as the scene outside a takeaway in Wing Yip or a band onstage being photographed on a smartphone in Up to Eleven. The flippant Bad Essay depicts a shame-faced young man sitting across a desk from his tutor. Bell’s large scale landscapes stand out as different and seem to have a more meaningful ambition, but they’re ultimately no less trivial. He paints Darvaza, a flaming gas crater in Turkmenistan, with the same gentle brush strokes that he paints everything else, failing to convey any sense of natural power.
Tom Hammick’s room is bolder, more vibrant. Nocturnal scenes in rich dark blues and fluorescent pinks and yellows fill the space. They’re dreamlike images: figures lost in dark woods, landscapes of mysterious calm. The enormous Island Studio makes explicit the influence of Japanese printmaking. It’s the few prints of Hammick’s displayed here, particularly The Wide, Wide Heaven and Edgeland, that I prefer. Their simple flatness and deep colours seem to me to jar less than they do in the thick oil paintings. Occasionally Hammick’s work seems brash or bordering on sentimentality, but taken individually there are some enchanting pieces here and his work seems to best fit the exhibition title.
Stepping into room number three we are taken from a dream world into the murky depths of the unconscious with Andrej Jackowski’s series of drawings entitled The Voyage. The 60 drawings pinned to the walls form a surreal sequence that reads horizontally and vertically, delving into the “well of remembrance”, as Jackowski puts it. Each scene takes place in a claustrophobic room, a theatrical set in which various characters and props appear and disappear: a man, a ladder, a boat, a cat, a couch, a naked woman, a horse… But the star of the show has to be a heron-headed figure who is both clownish and menacing, like a masked Venetian plague doctor. Scanning these images is like viewing a film by the Quay Brothers or reading a wordless graphic novel by Frans Masereel and trying to piece together a loose narrative. It’s a style of work that’s hard to get right, but this voyage feels like its coming from somewhere real. Jackowski grew up as the son of two Polish immigrants. His works tend to be small and portable, a quality he sees as relating to his peripatetic upbringing. As a child he was captivated by his father’s collection of Hungarian stamps, finding beauty in the miniaturisation of the world. This is a telling influence on the condensed narratives of The Voyage. Jackowski seems to me the artist who has most considered how to fill the room and create a compelling sequence. There’s an obsessive quality and personal depth, a poetic authenticity that I find ellusive in Hammick’s work and absent in Bell’s.
Through ‘Dreams of Here’ we are taken through from realism to dream to unconscious. It’s an exhibition worth engaging with, a kind of something-for-everyone in which each visitor may find their own ‘here’ of preference.