02.11.13 — 13.12.13 ‘Iain Andrews, 'Il Teatro dei Leviatano'’

‘Il Teatro dei Leviatano’ is a solo exhibition of new paintings by Iain Andrews. Andrews’ work has been exhibited widely in the UK as well as internationally, and this is his first solo exhibition in London.

Many of Andrews’ early works originate through dialogue with particular paintings from the canon of art history, ranging from sentimental Victorian prints to the Old Masters. He transcribes these original works, so that his own canvases contain reference to them, but also playfully incorporate new sounds, colours and gestures that disturb and animate the source. His painterly style is distinctive, and his methods of handling and applying paint are vast. It is as if he is continually searching out new possibilities for mark making, to ensure that each of his paintings retains the maximum charge. If the work were less sophisticated, his use of colour might appear clumsy and garish, but rather it arises from a commitment to ignore convention for the sake of rediscovering the potency and allure of new combinations.

‘Il Teatro dei Leviatano’ marks both a development of and departure from Andrews’ earlier paintings. At the centre of this new body of work is a miniature theatre that he has constructed, complete with intricately illustrated props and backdrops that reveal his exceptional skill as a draftsman. Andrews is exploring (in literal and metaphorical terms) the idea of the theatre as a place for narrative progression and denouement, as well as a stage for direct observation. He has used ‘Il Teatro’ to create a number of paintings from direct observation and in doing so, he creates a more direct link to the narrative ideas with which he is engaged, whilst also removing as a primary source the old master paintings he had previously been referencing.

In order to properly understand and describe Andrews’ approach to painting, it is important to recognize the philosophical and theological framework within which he operates, which is influenced as much by literary theory as it is by painting theory. Intimations of this framework are given in the titles of individual paintings. For example, in ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of John Milton (The Eucatastrophe)’, Andrews borrows a term from J.R.R.Tolkien, which is explained in the author’s essay ‘On Fairy-stories’, and forms part of a wider discussion of ‘Mythopoeia’. A ‘eucatastrophe’ is the sudden turn of events at the end of a story, which ensure that the protagonist does not meet some terrible, impending doom. For Tolkien, the term also had religious connotations and thematic links with the gospel stories, which were seen as partaking in and fulfilling the overarching mythological nature of the cosmos.

Andrews approaches his subject, be it an Old Master painting, or a narrative performed on a miniature stage, as a vehicle through which to consider different movements in art history, particularly over the past 100 years. He chooses to interpret this history as an adventure story in which a fantastical battle ensues between the historical big guns of the art world – Rubens, Velasquez and Titian – and the brimstone and fire of some modern and contemporary movements that would consign painting to obscurity, and deny its relevance to a world of pure ideas. One assumes that the ‘eucatastrophic’ moment might ensue, and generally, Andrews does seem given over to happy endings, although the paintings are never allowed to become sedatives.

It comes as no surprise to discover that Andrews also works as an art psychotherapist and often describes his practice of working with clients as having similarities with his painting process. In each case, he facilitates the dismantling of an existing, and often damaging or stifling narrative, in order to create space for new stories to be told. This process is transformative and powerful, yet it is often also messy, painful and chaotic. Andrews is not engaged in the recreation of passive forms; the good ending unravels through drama. As such, the paintings document a creative process that is costly and untidy; a form of ‘recovery’ in which unquestioned assumptions might be recovered and changed by an outside perspective.

Andrews’ paintings function a bit like fairy stories; they open up the potential for people to view their own world, and the story of art, through a different lens. Peter Fuller wrote about how, in the past, an artist could ‘transform the physically perceived by the manifestation of allegoric devices like haloes and ‘human’ wings, whereas now this can only be realised through the transfiguration of formal means like drawing, colour and touch’. In Andrews’ work, the act of making becomes inseparable from the message that is being conveyed through the marks, one of the importance of transformation and redemption.

Andrews’ own artist statement discusses his “struggle to capture the relationship between the spiritual and the sensual, apparent opposites that are expressed in my work through the conflict of high narrative themes and sensuous painterly marks.” His understanding of the way in which his paintings function, clarifies the intention behind this struggle. It is a conflict he also recognises in the paintings of Soutine, who is a strong influence on his work and to whom he refers explicitly in ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of John Milton (Soutine’s Mount)’. It is the central importance of the materiality of paint and it’s potential for representing physical flesh that seems to attract Andrews. There is nothing ethereal about the work; no elevation of spirit over form. He is not so much interested in a theo-humanist pictorial theory – that is the representation of the divine in nature – but in the participation of humanity in re-creation.

Children’s workshop, Saturday 23rd November, 2 — 3pm
Iain Andrews will lead a practical workshop exploring some of the themes in the exhibition. Suitable for ages 4 to 8.

Artist’s talk, Saturday 23rd November, 3.45pm
Iain Andrews will be in conversation about his work and practice.

Both of these events are free, but places are limited and booking is advisable. To reserve a place, please email: clare@manandeve.co.uk