Towards a Wooden O
11 January – 18 February, 2012
Art First is pleased to present the second solo exhibition of Chris Appleby's work. Within his titles lie the underlying themes of his work: The City Staged and Towards a Wooden O encapsulate the imaginary worlds of the City of London and Shakespeare's Globe (the Wooden O), with many stories, theatrical revelations and magical dramas that have become part of a personal mythology to emerge from the painter's London studio.
A catalogue accompanies this exhibition, published by Churchill College, Cambridge for a preview of some of the work, with an essay by Andrew Brewerton, Principal of Plymouth College of Art and Honorary Professor of Fine Art at Shanghai University. His thoughtful exploration of Appleby's practice and sources throws light on a thirty-year career which began at the Royal College of Art, when Appleby was a fellow student with Eileen Cooper, who is also represented by Art First, and with whom he shares a profound admiration of Ken Kiff.
Brewerton sums up the exhibition thus:
At first brush, these works might appear to present the very lineaments of figured pictorial narrative. Our encounter is with recurrent motifs pictured on paper and board, or occasionally in small painted sculptural assemblages, including human and animal characters (a lieutenant, Lilith, Peter Quince, an ass, an unicorn and others) invented or deriving from sources as diverse as Shakespeare and film noir, epinoia and kabbalah, or Giordano Bruno and movie Westerns.
They occur in interchangeable snapshot scenari: stage platform settings, cityscapes, an orange grove, a chariot, a barque. In their jarring complexities, as with pulp, American comic book, or film narrative forms, they conjure, alloy and enmesh moral, political, psychological or erotic possibilities, for which there would here however appear no prior screenplay.
On occasion words and names are scratched-in as a kind of hand-drawn floating sgraffito cartoon caption. Such words occur as disembodied oneric voices, hardboiled or half-remembered – the gumshoe voice-over, or a garbled dream of A Midsummer Night's Dream – for, unlike Shakespeare's 'rude mechanicals', Peter Quince, Nick Bottom et al, Appleby's unspeaking figures seem fated to perform a dumb-show of recurrent, seemingly unspeakable nightmare.
Appleby's paintings are suggestive, not merely in their narrative content, but in their rich and intuitive use of material. Clay slip, silver and gold leaf, graphite, collage and other materials join the paint in what the artist likens to musical improvisations and to alchemy:
You can dramatise your work or it can be the drama of what just happens... The theatre is like the alchemist's crucible... For me, conjuring up an image is part of that alchemical process, as well as a physical object. It is a dramatic object, it includes psychology... the painting studio is a theatre.
Paintings on board or panel are accompanied by smaller works on paper, and there is one striking woodblock print which makes a link to an earlier 'book' of ten colour woodcuts called Joey Two Streams which explored Joey's dilemma with his job in the City Police Department. This is a beguiling body of work, pertinent to the times in which we live and work, and infused with gentle ironic, humorous observation.