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  • Eddie Hewitt

Art Rooms 2016

Review

The Meliá White House Hotel, Regent's Park, provided a fine setting for a wonderful exhibition of contemporary art at the end of January. Eighty artists from across the world exhibited their work in corridors allocated to international regions including the UK, Europe, America and Asia. Walking into each hotel room was a delight, wondering what would be set out within. In most cases, the artists were present and eager to extend a warm greeting and to answer questions. This was very much an artistic interchange. There were so many fine exhibits to enjoy but I had some clear favourites. Here are the artists and the pieces that made the most impression on me.

Highlights of the exhibition

1. Roberto Grosso is an Italian digital artist. His pictures are presented on perspex and brushed metal. Roberto extended a warm greeting and quickly promised to invoke some magic. Holding up his tablet to one of his paintings, with music augmenting the visual experience, the artist revealed multiple images of the piece. A fascinating means of showing both the finished work and its various stages of development alongside each other. For me, his most remarkable exhibit was Cosi Forte, a semi-abstract representation of the head and shoulders of a victim of abuse. Grosso created the piece for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This was displayed in both 2D and 3D form, the 3D version having multiple layers in a holographic box, both hiding and revealing the internal form and the trauma of his subject.

Cosi Forte on brushed metal (left)

Cosi Forte on 5 layers of perspex (right)

Photos © Roberto Grosso

2. Michelle Loa Kum Cheung is an Australian artist with Chinese Mauritian cultural heritage. She describes herself as an ‘impulsive illustrator’ and ‘constant dreamer’ and much more. The theme of reflection dominated the room. The central exhibit was ‘All My Yesterdays’, a collection of bottles, each containing not just a message but a memory. The gifted and borrowed memories of family members and friends. Scraps of personal history, preserved for posterity. The glass was both protective and secretive, a simple and charming way to present hidden thoughts and recollections. The magic lay in their potential to contain something wonderful.

All My Yesterdays - detail Photo © Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Also in Michelle's display were some extremely fine and beautiful pryrographies, images of inspiring mountains and rivers and other natural wonders, delicately painted in oils with gold leaf on wood. If I could step back in time I would return to this room to gaze upon these images again at greater length. They were delightful.

The Exquisite Fall Photo © Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

3. Tinu Verghis is a performance artist and fashion model born in Kerala, India. Unable to attend the exhibition, alas, the artist contributed a remarkable video. This was an extraordinary and startling short film in which she appears coated in a sticky, edible membrane, showered with rice, and now removing it to reveal her nakedness. The message that came across was one of frustration and rebellion against patriarchal societies that normally confine women to roles and images that are restrictive and submissive to men. This artist seeks, in her own words to peel away “cultural constructions”, to conquer “societal judgments on race”, to be free. It takes boldness and a lack of shame to bare yourself to the world and to claim that freedom. The video felt shocking at first, and it challenged my concept of art, but it was quite brilliant.

The video Under My Skin can be viewed via Tinu’s website:

http://www.tinuverghis.com/under-my-skin

4. MH Sarkis is a Lebanese Artist who was born in the UK and grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. She likes to explore ‘otherness and the lesser-known’, as well as to draw on her familiar but diverse cultural heritage and homelands. I particularly liked her fascination with Yoruba head sculptures and face masks. MH also specialises in depicting the female human form, including self-portraits. Her pictures reveal rare depth and beauty. I was astonished by the radiance and the richness of the many shades contained within the bare skin of her subjects. Playfully, the artist also likes to inlay a backgammon board motif (a Sarkis family favourite) into cross sections of the human body. In this room I sensed genuine warmth, openness and a shared appreciation of art. I was also thrilled to sample Lebanese coffee for the first time; strong, with an enticing aroma and a hint of mystery.

Coffee by MH Sarkis, acrylic on canvas Photo © E. Hewitt

5. Taro Karibe is a Japanese photographer who describes his camera as a tool to “extract social system structure”. Here, Taro’s collection from a project entitled “I is for Illusion”, was dominated by photographs of people without facial features. Many were bankers, from his past profession, on the tube, in the city, in the office, in a karaoke bar, all wearing the same suit in a predominantly black and white colour scheme. This was a psycho-analytical look at “Salary man”, Japanese white collar workers. The triumph of efficiency and replication over individuality. I found the pictures somewhat disturbing and dehumanized, but that must have been the point.

Photo from 'I is for Illusion' Photo © Taro Karibe

6. Irma Irsara. This Italian artist not only paints but makes her own paper / canvas by mixing cotton with vegetables, mashing them up and flattening the mixture. This technique is known as ‘arte polpa' (pulp art). It thrives on building up layers, creating different textures, ripping and tearing and always placing the emphasis on the paper itself rather than the images subsequently applied on top. This seems like great fun, perhaps a bit weird, too, and also quite time-consuming. The vegetables contained within the paper on show included artichokes, parsnips and rhubarb. I think rhubarb is a vegetable best used in art rather than eaten.

7. Margot Roulleau­-Gallais is a French sculptor and modeller for Madame Tussauds. During the exhibition, Margot was actively engaged in modelling the head of a new figure. Her previous commissions include Thierry Henri, the former Arsenal footballer, and President Francois Hollande. The model of Henri is now installed at the Emirates stadium, and it looks stunning.

Thierry Henri Photo © Panoramio.com

8. Martin Robert Reed specialises in self-portraits and ‘blind drawing’. His works demonstrate intense levels of anxiety, curiosity about the self, and huge egotism. All of the pictures were defaced, in my opinion, by the artist himself, with charcoal lines scrawled over the face. That seemed a shame to me. But this was to represent the decay of man, the fact that ultimately we will all be crossed out. An unpleasant and degrading thought.

9. Paola Minekov is a Bulgarian artist based in London. My favourite of her exhibits was her depiction of Battersea power station, entitled Battersea in Transition, from her Cityscapes collection. Her several shades of blue combine with contrasting yellows and oranges, delineated by curves and straight lines to create an engaging and charming but positively urban image. This is a wonderful modern twist on an old and well-loved landmark in London. I love her colour schemes and patterns.

Battersea in Transition Photo © Paola Minekov

10. Silvia Lerin. This fine Spanish artist continued the theme of London cultural icons in her series of paintings entitled “Mind the Gap”. This was inspired by the colours of the London Underground lines. The artist uses mixed media, using bold, primary colours on oil, canvas and wood. Her Piccadilly and Northern line appeared black in the corner of the room, but on bringing it out into the light, the painting revealed a rich and famous shade of dark blue that we associate with the classic tube map.

Reflections

This was a brilliant exhibition of international art, staged innovatively in a stunning venue. At times quite intimate, sometimes a bit crowded, frequently uplifting and overall great fun. On stepping into each room I had high expectations of finding something inspirational and the result was almost invariably rewarding. Some displays were quite minimalist, but that concentrated the mind on the works the artists wanted to present most.

There was an almost universal wish on the part of the artists to engage with viewers as well as with fellow artists; to exhibit, to exchange ideas, to learn and to appreciate the shared experience. Through the art and the conversations, the event provided many opportunities for cross-cultural exchanges. Europe and Oceania dominated the field, so there is plenty of scope to diversify more next year and beyond. An African corridor would be welcomed especially. I can’t wait for Art Rooms 2017.

© Eddie Hewitt 2016

Links:

Art Rooms 2016

ww.art-rooms.org

Roberto Grosso

www.robertogrosso.com

Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

www.michellelkc.com

Tinu Verghis

www.tinuverghis.com

MH Sarkis

http://cargocollective.com/sarkisartist

Taro Karibe

http://tarokaribe.samexhibit.com/home

Irma Irsara

www.oleary-irsara.com/work.htm

Margot Roulleau­-Gallais

http://mrgsculpture.blogspot.co.uk

Martin Robert Reed

www.martinrobertreedart.com

Paola Minekov

www.paolaminekov.com

Silvia Lerin

www.silvialerin.com/emailnews201411b.html

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