On the lower-ground floor of Harris Lindsay at 67 Jermyn Street, you’ll discover the ‘Orion Stumbles’ exhibition featuring a selection of Francis West’s paintings on the legend of Orion alongside several of his Nocturnes. This gallery space curated by Megan Piper within an arts and antiquities dealership is an apt location for this exhibition focusing on the mythological figure of Orion – the blind hunter who walked across the sea to be healed by the sun God. Akin to all of West’s work (including his earlier drawings, pastels and paintings) the pieces in this show portray figurative forms in a state of metamorphosis. Whilst his Nocturnes are dark, dream-like, and at times bordering on the grotesque, his paintings on Orion in contrast use vivid purples and blues, and are far lighter and less oppressive. This disparity is made more poignant when you realise that West recently passed away in December 2015, and that the painting I was most drawn to is the final piece created by the artist entitled ‘Death of a Poet’. Despite consciously exploring the theme of death, the painting feels spirited and optimistic rather than fearful, with a shadowy allegorical figure of death in the bottom corner tempered by bird taking flight within the same scene. Physically, it is also larger and visibly more ambitious than the Nocturne canvases that surround it. I was moved to learn that this piece was painted from West’s deathbed with the support of his wife – and it felt not only rare, but fascinating and compelling to view an artwork from this psychological perspective and gain an insight into the optimism West had towards death at such a pivotal moment. I’d certainly suggest a visit to Piccadilly to catch the exhibition before it closes on 11th November.
Lamentably June’s weather may not be yielding any indication of summer, however The Royal Academy’s annual ‘Summer Exhibition’ which opened on 13th June has denoted the beginning of the season in the art world. Now in its 248th year, the exhibition is something of a London institution and is certainly worth a visit. As you turn off Piccadilly and enter the gallery’s courtyard, you are greeted by Ron Arad’s monumental sculpture ‘Spyre’, an 18 metre tall moving cone with a camera at its apex constantly filming the surrounding area from different angles which is then projected onto Burlington House. This impact is echoed in the stairwell featuring photographic images by Jane and Louise Wilson, and again in the opening gallery (The Central Hall) which includes a huge yellow neon sign ‘Forever’ by Tim Noble and Sue Webster, a hand painted photograph on canvas of Marie Antoinette by Pierre et Gilles, and a stone Petrified Petrol Pump by Allora and Calzadilla amongst others. This years’ show is co-ordinated by Richard Wilson RA, and with a staggering 1,240 works on display it is as vast, densely hung, varied and subjective as ever. The open submission nature of the show ensures that all mediums are represented from watercolour, to etching, engraving, printing, sculpture, installation, photography and digital, from both established artists and emerging talent. The standout piece for me is Katlug Ataman’s digital installation ‘The Portrait of Sakip Sabanci’ created from 10,000 LCD panels which hang above head height, each containing a portrait photograph of someone the Turkish philanthropist knew prior to his death fifteen years ago. Anything controversial is collated in Gallery IX including Michael Stokes explicit clay sculptures, Rachel Maclean’s digital orgy prints, and The Kipper Kids provocative photographic images. I liked the fact that Wilson does not seem to want to provoke or generate conversation by being deliberately shocking, instead he consciously explores the theme of artistic duos in this years’ show. So if London’s skies are going to remain grey I’d suggest heading to the RA for a burst of colour, lightness and humour to fake summer at their aptly titled exhibition!