Ian Hamilton Finlay
September 12 - November 2, 2019
David Nolan Gallery is pleased to present Wars, an exhibition of work spanning over a century by several generations of artists, including works by Sue Coe, Steve DiBenedetto, Nicole Eisenman, Ian Hamilton Finlay, George Grosz, Antonius Höckelmann, Sanya Kantarovsky, Roberto Matta, Jonathan Meese, Ludwig Meidner, Wardell Milan, Ebecho Muslimova, Peter Saul, and others. Centering around a 1940 painting by George Grosz – entitled Self-Portrait with Bird of Prey and Rat – the exhibition explores various representations of warfare, conflict, and self-expression. Taking Grosz and his artistic legacy as a conceptual starting point, artists who today continue his line of enquiry, such as Sanya Kantarovsky and Ebecho Muslimova, have created new works for the exhibition. At the same time, works by major established artists such as Roberto Matta and Peter Saul are presented as extensions of Grosz’s radically original outlook.
Painted during the outset of the Second World War, Self-Portrait with Bird of Prey and Rat is an unusual self-portrait. Unlike many of Grosz’s other portraits which show the artist in his studio, this work combines an unconventional array of props: a bird carrying a dead rat in its beak flies past the painter while a black spider crawls towards him. The blue sky behind Grosz appears to suggest optimism, as does his wry expression looking out to the viewer. Conversely, the darkening sky suggests a thunderstorm might break loose at any moment.
Addressing a similar historical moment, but from a vantage point of over 60 years after the fact, Peter Saul’s 2007 painting Stalin in 1943 refers to the Communist dictator’s agreement with the British and Americans to open a new offensive against Nazi Germany. In a wildly caricatured style, owing much to Grosz, Saul portrays a volcanic blaze in the background as bullets fly in every direction.
Ebecho Muslimova continues Grosz’s satirical legacy and is known for her alter ego “Fatebe” who she regularly depicts in ribald, often anxiety-ridden situations. Creating her own absurd worlds that loosely parallel those that inspired Grosz during his Berlin years of the 1920s, Muslimova’s portrays a society in which men have no place. In a spirit of self-examination (of which Grosz would have approved) Muslimova portrays humiliating circumstances that would embarrass many of us.
A towering 11 ½ foot painting by Jonathan Meese commands the main gallery. Entitled DR. LUFTBALLON (DU WARST MAL MOOMIN) D'AMOUR "INBETWEENIE", the work comprises many of the artist’s signature interests. Partly self-portrait, partly historical narrative, Meese depicts the central figure as a soldier whose defiant stance is both self-confident and ridiculous. Channeling Grosz’s searingly critical paintings from the war years, Meese furthers his fearsome self-examination with in a spirit of rule-breaking and subversion.
Another artist in the exhibition, Roberto Matta, was born in Chile and throughout his life in New York and Europe was deeply involved in politics. Notable was his unease from what he saw as the beginnings of the Second World War, followed by the social unrest of the 1960s, and then Pinochet’s coup of his homeland. His paintings are occupied by characters that are partly human and partly primitive, often involved in warfare. Set in three dimensional spaces that are reminiscent of science fiction, they are painted with richly-colored fluid brushstrokes that hover between Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Like Meese, he believed deeply that art and poetry could change our lives.