The shocking thing about the Saatchi Gallery is that there isn't much of a shock!
Set within a beautiful Neo- Classical building off Sloane Square, the gallery itself is photogenic and a joy to walk around - lovely light spilling onto curvaceous staircases and large well- lit rooms.
The only trouble is that the curators seem to have been overwhelmed by the size of these spaces and decided that the only way to fill them is to up-size. The majority of the pieces on display, especially in the latest exhibition 'Painter's Painters', are huge. Big is beautiful - or mostly, not that beautiful.
Seeing each room adorned with large, colourful paintings is impressive, from an interior design perspective - and in the main I was moved by this monumental scale as one might be in the presence of large sculptures, large animals, large anything really. When you looked closer, however, a lot of these works began to fall apart.
The catalogue gave a brief insight into the practice and minds of the various (mostly male) artists, but on the whole, their paintings were not explained, which was refreshing. The viewer had to work harder to understand meaning and that's how paintings are meant to be - set free into the world without explanation, interpreted in whichever way the owner/ viewer imagines or feels. Artists sometimes try and get around this problem by giving the painting a long poetic title, but really, I feel that a work should stand on its own.
Three artists stood out as exceptions. Each had created works that were visually exciting as a whole but drew you in to look for further meaning within.
Dexter Dalwood re-jigs press cuttings and photos and then enlarges them in paint to create imagined versions of past events, such as celebrity suicides and natural disasters. His 'The Deluge' reminded me of the Victorian painter John Martin's huge Biblical works - striking for it's pop imagery and darker undertones.
Dexter Dalwood 'The Deluge'
Phoebe Unwin had an eclectic selection of work on display, illustrating her search for a material to express herself with. The imagery was mysterious and conjured many possible ideas as to their meaning, with nods to artists such as Klimt and the photographer, Man Ray.
Phoebe Unwin 'Soft Person'
One of the last spaces features the artist, David Brian Smith, who used old family photos to create large paintings of rural life, mainly using a shepherd with his flock as a subject. His colours are unusual and his application transforms skies and sheep into old rag rugs or patchwork quilts. They have an almost religious quality to them, reminiscent of scenes from the Holy Land.
David Brian 'Great Expectations- A Windy Day'
At the beginning of the blog I mentioned that the curators seemed overwhelmed with the space and went for large paintings in response. There was one noteable exception however, and it seemed to swing to the opposite extreme. Perhaps the artist had run out of paintings or the curators were having a laugh - either way the hanging of Richard Aldrich's small 'Future Portrait #49' is, what you might politely call, a waste of space.
It would be easy to moan about all of the artworks that I didn't like at Saatchi (quite a few) and discuss the lack of apparent artistic skill to be found. It wasn't all bad and it is my personal opinion at the end of the day. However, I do think that the gallery has to rethink their spaces and hanging policy to show off a wider variety of painting sizes and artists. I was left longing for at least a few of the Saatchi Brit Art brigade of the '90s.
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