2010 Onwards

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The Artist


Los Angeles, California, L.A. Louver Gallery, Tony Bevan: Recent Paintings, 6 September - 6 October 2012 


Hossein Amirsadeghi (Ed), Sanctuary, Britain's Artists and their Studios, Thames and Hudson, 2012, illus colour p169


Tony Bevan's first paintings of interiors date back to 1987, when he made a series of 'Corridor Paintings' on small canvases. Eight years later he revived the theme, this time working on a much larger scale, (see, Black Corridor, 1995, 2.69 by 2.15m). He painted many variations on this one image and, in so doing, discovered a new vein of subject matter, engaging enough to pursue alongside his portrait paintings. Bevan's most recent interiors typically comprise a single colour - red, orange, cobalt blue or violet, occasionally black - against a white ground. The scale of his paintings necessitates that he work on unstretched canvases on the floor of his studio. He hand-mixes his own paint, applying it thickly, using brushes which have been cut off into stumps. Debris from snapped off bits of charcoal, shadows of earlier drawings, and scuffs from where he has moved around on top of the canvas, remain evident in the surface of the finished paintings. A recent photograph, by Robin Friend[1], shows Bevan in his studio, midway through painting Red Interior, 2011. We can see how the entire image has first been drawn out in charcoal, even the large band at the bottom has been filled in with black. Bevan is kneeling on a sheet of plastic, placed on top of the canvas, ready to continue work on the lower part of the painting, covering over the charcoal lines with a single pot of red paint. "I tend to work on the floor, sometimes on the wall and then on the floor. It's constant movement between the vertical and the horizontal"[2] 'I need that contact, to be physically close to them' ... 'I can't feel over-awed by them when they are on the ground'.... 'I also need the gravity if I'm trying to build up the thickness' ....(the tradition of floor-based work) 'doesn't just go back to Pollock. It's been done for centuries - as far back as the illuminators of medieval manuscripts'. [3] The red band at the bottom of Red Interior, 2011, is a recurring pictorial device. Initially one imagines that it represents the floor or a wall within the space, but the perspective doesn't quite add up. Sometimes Bevan uses these flat areas of colour to break up an otherwise empty background, (Self-Portrait Neck, 1988); or to represent the floor or a table top upon which something sits, (Head Horizon, 1998). But the figurative elements often sit strangely against these coloured areas. In Arm and Red Table, 1989, a hand holding a fork reaches across, apparently onto a red table, but because this area appears so flat, it looks like the hand is reaching right out of the picture. The spatial ambiguity of these coloured areas foregrounds for the viewer that we are looking at an illusionary space, a painting, and that things can be whatever the artist chooses them to be. Bevan's paintings of interiors do not necessarily seek to describe one specific place. They might more accurately be described as a confabulation of spaces, remembered, imagined and historical. The studio where he has worked since 1976 is in Deptford, an area of South East London once known for its thriving docklands, a function which has since fallen away. Consequently there are many disused industrial buildings close to where he works. The inspiration for Red Interior, 2011, certainly seems to come from an industrial building, the glass structure and saw-tooth roof suggest it could be a train shed, or other Victorian building. Photographs of Bevan's studio[4], show postcard images of historic buildings pinned to the walls, variously depicting tunnels, cathedrals and ancient sites. Sometimes, these photographs are a direct point of reference, Red Ceiling, 1998, for example was based on a specific black and white photograph given to the artist of a German Neoclassical building. Bevan has suggested that some of his recent interiors might relate to a dutch barn he once visited as a child, but this association came to him only afterwards. In conversation with Richard Cork, he describes another painting, Red Interior, 1999, as being 'not a house, or a space, but a place beyond - an area difficult to quantify, almost like the jungle in Conrad'[5] Klaus Ottmann describes Bevan's portrait heads as 'exposed structural portraits', in which the musculature and tendons are readable on the surface of the skin. Bevan approaches his architectural subjects in the same manner. In Red Interior, 2011, we are looking up at the innards of a building, the skeletal structure which supports the exterior facade. A photo of the artist's studio, taken around 1998, [6] shows how indistinguishable Bevan's heads and interiors were at this time. We see fourteen paintings pinned close together on the studio wall, with another two hidden from view. Scanning across the paintings, the head studies appear increasingly abstracted, the faces, formed from a network of straight lines, look like crystalline structures, and are almost indistinguishable from the criss-crossing beams in the adjacent paintings of buildings. Bevan's figure paintings are so psychologically charged, one could argue that even when he paints someone other than himself, his paintings are always in essence self-portraits. By extension, Bevan's paintings of dark corridors, weighty ceilings and cavernous chambers are not portraits of places, but manifestations of (his own) psychological states. His interiors suggest feelings of containment, isolation, physical pressure, perceptual distortion and release. By refining, and working repeatedly with, a small range of architectural motifs, Bevan has developed a parallel body of work as powerfully expressive as his portraits. Bevan's obsessive engagement with a narrow range of figurative subjects, bears comparison with School of London painters such as Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and Francis Bacon. His use of large scale canvases, visceral expressionism and textured surfaces, also suggests an affinity with international painters such as Anselm Kiefer (Germany) and Leon Golub (USA). Footnote: This work is coded by the artist as PC 114. This denotes it is a 'Painting on Canvas', completed in 2011, and that it is the 4th painting completed in that year. Robin Friend's photograph of Bevan working on this canvas is dated March 2011, although the painting was incomplete at this point. On average Bevan produces around 16 - 18 paintings per year. Tony Bevan studied at Bradford School of Art, Goldsmiths College and The Slade, completing his studies in 1976. He was included in a number of British important group exhibitions in the early 1980s, which led on to solo exhibitions at the ICA, London in 1987-8, Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1993 and National Portrait Gallery in 2011. He has exhibited extensively in the UK and internationally and his work is in thirty major public collections including the Tate Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Israel Museum and Kunsthalle Kiel, Germany. [1] Hossein Amirsadeghi (Ed), Sanctuary, Britain's Artists and their Studios, Thames and Hudson, 2012, p169 illus colour [2] Ibid p168 [3] Richard Cork, Tony Bevan, Paintings and Drawings, Michael Hue Williams Fine Art, London, 2000, p21 [4] Richard Cork, p6, and also, Kosme de Barañano, Klaus Ottmann, Jonathan Sinclair-Wilson and Marco Livingstone, Foreword by Jon Bird, Tony Bevan, Lund Humphries, London, 2005, p40 [5] Richard Cork, p51 [6] Ibid, frontispiece