Here are four artists who our Curator recommends keeping an eye out for, and where you can see their work this month.
By Phin Jennings | 28 Feb 2023
Surrealism comes in all shapes and sizes. For a long time, London’s galleries have been filled with a colourful, graphic, blobby flavour of figurative surrealism where the physical boundaries between bodies, objects and spaces are broken down. Tomas Harker’s surrealism teases boundaries in a more subtle and creeping way. The fabric of reality has not broken down, but it is routinely stretched, snipped and tugged at in a way that I find deeply menacing. When Harker paints things, people and animals, they are shaped as you would expect them to be, but there is something off about them. Is that road sign pointing towards “Inferno”? Are those dalmatians’ spots turning navy blue? Is there a dancing fairy in my wine glass? In Harker’s paintings, unlike in more formally surreal ones, there is no hyperbole; just a world where your powers of perception and understanding are rendered useless by things that turn up where you don’t expect them to. For me, the scariest thing about Harker’s world is what might be concealed in the places where things seem usual. To use a The Simpsons analogy, I fear that these places might be like the regular-looking Oreo biscuit in Moe’s bag of factory seconds. He happily puts it in his mouth before learning that there was something irregular about it after all.
Tomas Harker’s solo exhibition Multiple Choice Fairytale Ending at The Sunday Painter (117-119 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1XA) runs from 17 Feb – 1 Apr.
The sky is an important place for art. Look at any £20 note and you will see a portrait of J. M. W. Turner, a man best known for painting pictures of the sky. Visit almost any major art museum and you will find many paintings of – sometimes rooms dedicated to – artists’ impressions of clouds, moons and the refracted light of sunset and sunrise. These pictures might also be a source of new knowledge; some scientists have speculated that the Old Masters’ paintings of the sky might tell us about the environments they were working in, if we believe that their renditions are truthful. I don’t think the same can be said of Angela Lane’s pictures. She paints intimate landscapes filled with sky, each containing an unidentified airborne form. Sometimes it is just a small beacon of light or a wrong-coloured moon; other times it is a sprawling pattern of glowing circles that remind me of a Hilma af Klint painting. They are beautiful but also, like Tomas Harker’s works, unsettling. In Don Delillo’s novel White Noise, the protagonist – a character obsessed with gaining knowledge and terrified of death – is horrified when an “Airborne Toxic Event” appears in the sky above him. Part of the threat is that such a freak happening undermines some of the knowledge of the world that he thought he was safe in. I get a sense of this feeling when I look at Lane’s skies, realising the horror that a beautiful new aerial configuration might bring with it.
Angela Lane’s work is included in Night Light, a group exhibition at Cob Gallery (205 Royal College Street, London NW1 0SG) running from 2 Feb – 25 Mar.
Yage Guo paints people, plants and semi-abstract worlds with gentleness and economy, bringing a feeling of fragility. Often in fewer than five or six brush strokes, each one with its own distinct purpose, she faintly brings about a pair of eyes and slit-like mouth, the outline of a body or a bunch of bluebells, just possible to pick out against their background. Looking at the artist’s work, it feels as though her images – which, in reality, are mostly rendered in oil paint and not at risk of going anywhere – are fleeting impressions that we are lucky to have caught before they fade away. This ephemeral feeling is the true subject of Guo’s practice, the things that she paints are just the vehicles she uses to deliver it. Since I first came across the artist in 2021, when she was still completing her MFA at The Slade, I have been impressed by her ability to evoke such a strong, simple feeling with such sparse and often indeterminate forms. I don’t always know quite what I’m looking at, especially in her more abstract works, but I am always hit with melancholy at the idea that it might soon disappear into the canvas or paper.
Yage Guo’s work is included in A Gauzy Flame, a group exhibition at Herald St (2 Herald Street, London E2 6JT) running from 1 Mar – 15 Apr.
The stories in Leonardo Devito’s paintings stretch over multiple timelines, some more recognisable than others. One minute his characters are smoking cigarettes and wielding Calvin Klein wallets, the next they are conquering many-headed monsters on horseback. Things are confused further by the influence of Flemish Renaissance painting (Google it and you’ll see what I mean) on the artist’s palette, bringing in another new precinct. Despite the time-and-place based confusion, Devito’s latest solo exhibition has a satisfyingly clear narrative. Rather than the loose kind that a lot of exhibitions contain, which are often more like collections of ideas than stories, this artist weaves tales the likes of which wouldn’t be out of place in a blockbuster television series. In one painting, the exhibition’s text points out that “the tree […] is visible in the distance behind – indicating the police are close and arrest appears imminent.” It sounds, in the best way, more like a fan-turned-amateur-detective’s post in a Reddit forum than an elusive art essay. This aspect of Devito’s work is of a piece with the influence he draws from religious imagery, which was once the only way to represent scripture to a largely illiterate public.
Leonardo Devito’s solo exhibition Piccolo Testamento at The Artist Room (F/3, 76 Brewer Street, London W1F 9TX) runs from 23 Feb – 18 Mar.