The Impossible Garden: Harry Adams
The Impossible Garden 2014, Oil, charcoal and beeswax encaustic on cotton covered board, 183 x 366cm
Isis Gallery at The Regency Town House, Brighton
22nd March - 6th April
Public view Saturday 22nd March 3pm - 7pm
“Shall painting be confined to the sordid drudgery of facsimile representations of merely mortal and perishing substances and not be, as poetry and music are, elevated to its own proper sphere of invention and visionary conception? No, it shall not be so! Painting, as well as poetry and music, exists and exults in immortal thoughts.” William Blake
“That one’s rather jolly.” Anthony Blunt
The Impossible Garden referred to in the title of this presentation of new paintings by Harry Adams is a large four panel work in oil, charcoal and beeswax encaustic. This is a revisiting of a much larger trompe l’oeil work on four walls by an unknown artist, from a villa built in the late 1st Century BC for Caesar Augustus’ wife Livia. This original rendering of a Roman garden was designed to cool the senses in a semi-subterranean dining space during the heat of the Roman summer. What soon becomes apparent in looking at this original fresco are the inconsistencies - obviously the flat plane is not a real garden but a simulacrum - but trees also blossom and fruit simultaneously, branches both bow to cooling breezes and are trapped in the hot stillness of a stifling summer afternoon, and those flittering birds are as still as death.
In Harry Adams’ revisiting of this work, heightened colours clash - the trees themselves are revivified in exuberant hues of yellow, orange and pink - birds, pomegranate trees, acanthus and oleander fight for attention as some elements are fully rendered and others appear as charcoal lines on near raw canvas. There is a push/pull of time, resolution and conflict, not least because the work itself is a document of a relationship between the two artists behind the name Harry Adams, for - like Livia’s Garden - Harry Adams is a fiction, a construct, of friends Adam Wood and Steve Lowe.
But why repaint this Impossible Garden? (HA have also repainted Constable’s Haywain, Ucello’s Rout of San Romano and Picasso’s Guernica amongst others). Questions of attribution are actually central to Harry Adams’ paintings – a challenge to the individualist ego in art in favour of collaboration and commonality of spirit. This they demonstrate in their own creative partnership but also feel compelled to extend and apply to other art and artists they feel drawn to; making them their friends and accomplices. As both homage and dissection, these appropriations enhance and inform their own ever evolving kaleidoscope of painterly and pictorial motifs.
This exhibition of recent paintings features a range of subjects and scales. Often Harry Adams paintings exhibit replacements and alterations, scrapings and sketchings, while subject matter includes enough force and doom to reveal the hands of terminal romantics. One of Blake’s Proverbs of Hell states ‘You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.’ Often with HA this line is crossed with an agreement that “enough is enough” and the work ceases.
and this he did in 1899 (lights in the desert) 2014, Oil, charcoal and beeswax encaustic on cotton covered board, 122 x 183cm
‘and this he did in 1899 (lights in the desert)' (above) refers to visionary Nikola Tesla’s Colorado Springs experiments in the transmission of electrical energy through space, in this instance powering lights by electrodynamic induction from an oscillator 100 feet (30 m) from the bulbs. His aim was to provide free lighting for all, an aim that was of course halted by Capital. The series of paintings loosely grouped under the title Men Breaking Ice refer to Shackleton’s disastrous exploits in the Antarctic (during which no human life was lost but the sled dogs and Mrs Chippy, the ships’s cat were shot). Landscapes in particular are reminiscent of Anselm Keifer’s Markische Sand series from 1977/78 and their allusions of man’s desecration of Nature. Further architecturally monolithic subjects include a disused grain elevator, the doomsday seed depository in Svalbard and - archly - Tate Modern, as symbols of calamity. These, Harry Adams says, are all aspects of the Impossible Garden.
The Regency Town House (1829) is in many ways a perfect vehicle for these paintings - both are complete and unfinished (or rather stripped and perfect), there is an exuberant and grandiose air about it that is equal to Harry Adams themes and marks. In fact architecture itself is a common theme - Neal Brown in his catalogue interview (Harry Adams: The Lay Of The Land (Dirty Marks and Fine Lines), Art And Space, Munich 2013) questioned the artists about this -
NB There’s quite a lot of imposing architecture in your work that displaces that romantic light and sky. IT’s often an aggressive manmade interruption, whose themes relate to expanse, freedom, height and constraint. There’s something that is sort of spiritually homeless. Are these themes ones that you recognise as belonging to you? Themes of power, nature, interruption, struggle - of nature as a form of compromised holiness?
HA Yes, all of the above...We like the suggestion of compromised holiness. It’s very difficult to say how deliberate these things are...ideas of utopia and destructions of the land, or interference... all that stuff is there, yes, but we try to leave it as open as possible - not get too tied to an idea, to allow poetic resonance.
Finally, this exhibition includes sequences from two parallel series of small paintings ‘The Great Oak’ and ‘Flower and Buds’. There are one hundred unique examples of each in both complete series, one for each of the hundred years of war we have committed since 1914, revealing the political theatre as a lazareto de sangre, run by fools. Yet each small painting is a beautiful, V shaped gesture in itself.
Regency Town House
13 Brunswick Square
East Sussex BN3 1EH
Opening hours Wednesday to Sunday 12pm - 6pm
Visits also available by appointment
Contact John Marchant at Isis Gallery for further information
A pdf of the Harry Adams catalogue ‘The Lay Of The Land is available here
The Impossible Garden : Harry Adams is the first in a series of exhibitions organised by Isis Gallery at the Regency Town House, Brighton. Further exhibitions include -
Significant Form - Minimal Works by Richard Tuttle, Paul Sharits, Fernanda Gomez and others, Universal Majesty Verity Love Infinite: new paintings by Jamie Reid, and installations by Martin Erik Andsersen, Victoria Halford and Steve Beard.