Visits: Julie Mehretu – Helen Chadwick

Fragmentation - Assemblage - Sketchbook ideas

Julie Mehretu at White Cube Mason’s Yard (21 September 2018 – 3 November 2018): ‘Sextant

An Exhibition of more recent works from 2018 by Mehretu with a joined text by the curators stating`Featuring large-scale paintings and etchings, the exhibition highlights Mehretu’s use of gestural abstraction as a conduit for evocative and charged emotion and intellectual enquiry.’

She applied a multiple layered process in the large scale paintings in the basement that I found especially intriguing, perhaps as they combined color and gestural marks broader than possibly her previous works. Her starting are found images, manipulated in Photoshop, and airbrushed onto canvas. From this rather abstracted picture created she continued with layers of screen printing, ink and acrylic paint – applying broad strokes and marks, challenging conceptions of whether this is a drawing or a painting. A space in-between resonating with how I find my place at the moment. Following a Fine Arts degree, working currently on a painting course, I am wondering whether the work in itself should not be more important than a classification. Questions of wether the work engages the viewer and opens questions might be more relevant for me.

One could see her process works as layers of memories, materialized through paint or other media. Faded images as abstract reflections do allow a more holistic view on the work as such. The power of the applied colors in relationship with marks, edges and soft tones. The room as such seemed to be activated by the energy of her paintings.

Compared to the basement room, I found the upper room with more monochrome and mostly aquatint techniques quite dull. Not that thoses didnt’ have a certain appeal, but I found the energy to be quite different.

Fig. 1: Installation views – digital collage , photo: SJSchaffeld / Copyright: Mehretu, White Cube

Helen Chadwick (1953-1996) – a reading encounter at the British Library

I pre-registered abroad as a reader to the British Library, and was excited to reserve upfront some book to read in the reading room ‘Humanities’. I registered beforehand and now I am an official BL reader.

Chadwick’s subjects are often around a gender sensibility and to the material side of life. One of her main disruptive series is ‘Viral Landscapes’ (Walker, 2010) –  viral in relation to microbiological phenomena. She feels attracted by Roccoco, the decorative and moving element pulsing at the same time. Roccoco is quite close to the Baroque and the aspect of movement and concealing is an aspect I looked at since part one of my current course. 

I found her sketchbooks pages interesting as they allowed me to look inside the artist’s approach of working, how she uses various media and visual thinking in developing her works (Fig. 2). 

Helen Chadwick's sketchbook notes (book scan)

Fig. 2: Helen Chadwick’s sketchbook notes on developing ‘Wreath to Pleasure’ (book scan – taken in reading room of DrawingRoom)

Her sense of materiality is reflected in her earlier sculptures made of cloth, vinyl, rubber, latex, hair. She used photography to document the objects as they were worn by models or performed. I find this resonating as at times I am wondering how photography sits in my working approach.

Her idea development alongside her photography approach is reflected in her series Wreath to Pleasure, 1992-93. Formal composition, mandala like using various materials (flowers, creams, soap etc.) to convey senses of touch and pleasure sensations. the work as such are volatile sculptural compositions. The works on display are printed photographs (C-prints on aluminium faced MDF, framed in circular powder coated steel frames) of these compositions, executed to high quality. I very much like her approach to transmit sensations through materiality, although the final work is ‘material-less’, ie. a flat glossy reproduction. 

On the other hand she worked with performance to present work, as a display of things relating to the body. Kind of moving ‘tableaux vivant‘ with an emphasis on the body as subject in relation to the object (Chadwick, Walker, 2013)

Her work ‘of  mutability‘ are photocopies, using the photocopier as camera, everything has been placed onto the glass plate of the copier, and subsequently creating out of each image a composite, a mosaic of hundreds of pieces of photo copy. The machine as an object that performs and the artist’s gesture is the intervention through an assemblage approach. This approach to  In another work she reflects on spheres as representing fingertips that explode (Chadwick, 2011).


Take aways:

  • Materiality can be seen quite differently: medium as material, material as medium, material as model, material as reference (e.g. for sensations)
  • Layering: Both artists do work with layering. Mehretu through a process of layering incorporating photography as a point of depature, and Chadwick photography as a way of documentation.
  • Visual exploration of ideas (Fig. 2) resonates well with the way I want to work
  • I feel that both artist will play a deeper role in my own practice and will look at a few aspects deeper:
    – object-subject relationship related to image (original, machines)
    – question of reproduction in the process of making
    – objects as precious things, mediated through participation , agency of the viewer
    – Fragmentation and concealing, an aspect that I do relate also to Jacqueline Humphries work.



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