Thursday, 19 March 2015

Cesare Lucchini at Rosenfeld Porcini

by  George Upton  I
In one of his trips to the region in 1841, the English painter J.M.W. Turner made a watercolour sketch of the town of Bellinzona in Switzerland, near the boarder with Italy. In a style that has become particular to the painter, he manages to blend the detail of the buildings with the vast, indistinct forms of the Swiss Alps, drenched liberally but precisely in colour. 

It is fitting that Turner is one of the first antecedents that comes to mind when looking at the large, richly coloured paintings of Cesare Lucchini, who was born in the same town exactly 100 years later. Currently exhibited at the Rosenfeld Porcini gallery in London, at first glance Lucchini’s paintings appear completely abstract. On closer inspection, amidst the colour there appears human forms, most mutilated, often disembodied, amidst the detritus of battle - barbed wire twisting over and into limbs.

Quel Che Rimani, 2011, oil on canvas

From Battlefield to Paradise, then, is an appropriate title for the 74 year old Swiss artist’s work. On meeting him at the exhibition’s opening, the artist had a liveliness that belied his age. It would be easy to presume that the scenes of suffering in his paintings, the remnants of war revealed as the dust settles, are imagined. But, having been born in the middle of the Second World War, in the centre of a continent engulfed in fighting, Lucchini’s work speaks of the destruction that was being wrought in Europe.

Like his contemporary Anselm Kiefer, there is a sense of coming to terms with the mechanised warfare that erupted and subsided around Switzerland in the middle of the last century. Lucchini has always focused on catastrophic events throughout history, reflecting the 2010 oil slick in Mexico, the drowning of many refugees attempting to reach Sicily and the use of child soldiers in his work. In this series of paintings, however, the artist speaks more generally about the human condition and its inability to overcome its limitations.

Those Who Remain - The Fall, 2013, oil on canvas

Significantly, echoing Turner’s sketch of Bellinzona further, through the windows of the many rooms in his paintings Lucchini has depicted snow covered mountains, suggesting he is placing his rumination on human suffering within a context he is familiar with. The Swiss backdrop can also be understood as the unattainable heights that man attains to, but can never achieve. They are the paradise that, invented by man, invented by Lucchini in his paintings, sustains those who face death.

There’s much meaning in Lucchini’s paintings at Rosenfeld Porcini and, as evident in this review, it is easy to overlook their formal qualities. And yet as much as the artist can discuss the universal, elemental nature of humanity, he also has a masterly command of his medium and colour. In these works the barbaric, horrifying scenes are made more poignant, more significant by the striking and attractive way in which they have been painted. Their content aside, Lucchini’s paintings are horribly beautiful to look at. 

A Very Rough Path, 2015, oil on canvas

From Battlefield to Paradise runs until 21st March at Rosenfeld Porcini in London.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Mehdi Ghadyanloo

by  George Upton  I
We have a tendency to over-simplify the Middle East. There has been a huge debate over figurative depiction in Islam since the shootings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Through the violent actions of a few fanatics and the peaceful protests of many, we are told that depicting the human form, let alone the Prophet Mohammad, is banned within the Islamic faith. And yet, as Dr Sussan Babaie, a professor in Iranian and Islamic art at the Courtauld Institute of Art states, “in Iran, the body never really disappeared”. 

Nowhere is this clearer than in the art of Iranian muralist Mehdi Ghadyanloo, whose first exhibition in the UK (and only his second outside Iran) has just opened at the Howard Griffin Gallery in London. Employed by the Tehran municipality, Ghadyanloo paints vivid, colourful, surreal and, importantly, figurative murals on the expansive blank walls that are so prevalent in Tehran. Continuing the long tradition of mural painting in Iran, Ghadyanloo updates the martyr murals from the Iran-Iraq war and the visual hagiographies of the leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Mohammad by painting non-political subjects that are simply designed to make the people of Tehran happy.

Ghadyanloo did not plan to paint murals as his profession but, having left university and needing money, he responded to a call for artists by Tehran’s Beautification Bureau. Taking ten designs to be judged, and impressed by the fact that they were done so on strictly non-political terms, he was accepted and told to start the next day. Once he had completed his third work, the mayor of Tehran rang the manager of the Beautification Bureau to ask who had done his murals and when he discovered who it was, the manager was told to give all the walls in Tehran to Ghadyanloo.

Ghadyanloo has been doing what he can to beautify Tehran for eight years. During this time he has painted over 100 murals and, notably, on mosques in the city. Far from eschewing his fanciful, fantastical designs, one mosque, for whom the decoration was free, asked Mehdi to paint a second wall. The idea that Islam rejects figurative depiction is here laughable - not only has Ghadyanloo painted the image of a man but he is not in Islamic dress and is flying as a result of two butterfly wings that have sprouted from his back. For many familiar with the street art of East London, the discovery that Ghadyanloo’s similar approach to urban painting is actively encouraged by the Iranian authorities will be surprising, and reminds us that Iran and the Middle East is much more complex than can be conveyed in the mass media.