It would be easy to assume that Assembly House’s most recent exhibition is a tale of ‘master and protégé’, a former lecturer and student reuniting again for a grande finale. No Two People, featuring Andrew Lister and Rosie Vohra, is not another example of the overused cliché so often rehashed in film and television. It’s more the story of ‘master and master’, two delightfully refined artists of different ages embracing wit, comedy and an interest in traditional painting with seamless collaboration. The two artists share a history at Leeds Arts University: Vohra graduated from Fine Art in 2013 and Lister tutored on the same course until a few years ago.
Upon entering the gallery in Assembly House’s project space Vohra’s Calendar Triptych (2017) lies as if it has fallen to the floor from the open beams above. Each acts ‘independently, but as a family’ the artist tells me and references both the modernist Italian painter Domenico Gnoli and more contemporary comic book art. Made from modrock and painted with folds hiding parts of the surface, each of the three objects entices you to get close and personal and peer underneath to find marks of the maker with childlike inquisitiveness.
It’s exactly this kind of interaction that both Vohra and Lister envisaged from the audience. In a successful attempt to bring the space to life, the floor has been laid diagonally with a checkered yellow vinyl that leads the eyes and feet to every artwork as if leading a bishop to an unguarded pawn in chess. The bubbles in the texture are circumstantial and not intended, and yet when speaking about this chance happening both Lister and Vohra are in agreement that it elevates the show.
For Lister, layering is a road well travelled within his work. ‘Portrait of Helen Mirren’ (2016), in particular, stands out with thematic layers: Queen Elizabeth II is the paintings muse, albeit with a front tooth missing. Humour aside, with the recent revelations regarding the Paradise Papers that showed the Queen benefitting from offshore tax havens, the painting evokes questions of transparency, faux and public identity. The work is exquisitely detailed with an oval canvas as if an oversized family photo. In 2010 the Queen was described as having a ‘wonderful sense of the absurd’, a description that could easily be used for ‘Portrait of Helen Mirren’ and, indeed, the whole of No Two People.
Public identity and reproduction is further explored through Lister’s multiple paintings of Christ amongst the gallery, none more so than in ‘Dead Christ in a Box’ (2017). Christ lies horizontal, painted onto the the inside of an old vegetable box that is hung on the wall like a landscape painting with protruding nails sticking out that work to balance between painting and sculpture. Quite fitting for the time of year the veg box is reminiscent of a child’s nativity and offers another example of Lister and Vohra’s shared interest in the intersection between painting and sculpture.
No Two People is an enigmatic display of two artists plying their trade from similar starting points. Where Vohra starts from Indian miniatures and Lister starts with European painters, their initial research is quite traditional. The final product, however, is nothing short of remarkable.
No Two People: Andrew Lister & Rosie Vohra, Assembly House Studios, 2 – 7 November 2017.
Liam McCabe is a writer and curator based in Leeds.