Text by Susanna Hill
Vermeer, Holbein, da Vinci, Dürer, Rousseau, John Bellamy and Dali: all artists that come to mind as you walk around the terrific Re-view: Iain Andrews currently on show at Castlefield Gallery. Styles, motifs and palettes from across the centuries are appropriated masterfully in Andrews‘ work, but they collide in a lyricism that is entirely the artists’ own.
The sense of narrative is strong in all works, with iconography from myth, legend and the Bible, but the plot itself is ever illusive. Images are never what they appear; ‘Mythopoeia – The Judicivator’ (a collaboration with Wallace Driminnaus) is a case in point. This work has taken an old style school desk – with modern graffiti – and transformed it into the canvas for a Northern Renaissance engraving. The surface of the lid is carved with a scene of trees and architecture in a style that is instantly recognisable, but this comfort in familiarity slowly falls away on closer inspection; making sense of the image is almost impossible as the intricacies of details are tightly woven together.
The ‘fairytale’ is most especially prominent in a series of works on paper clustered together: variations on a theme of ‘The Temptation of St Anthony and other Stories’. Scenes depicted in pen and wash offer theatrical characters and drama, but there is little consistency across the works and no apparent through line. They are (visually) held together by a small mixed media sculpture positioned in the middle of the papers, the hand of God reaching down into a fantastical land with hybrid, taxidermy beasties.
This divine orchestrator is an ever present notion in the exhibition, and combines with a theatrical language (strong characters, historical clothing, and motifs of theatre curtains) to effect a sense of the predestined. This divinity is introduced to us in the commission for the exhibition: ‘The Ancient of Days’. This two storey print appropriates the style of Dürer, and seems to discuss themes of creation and religion, with a few obscure contemporary emblems thrown in.
The poetic nature of Andrews’ style is beautifully brought together in the magnificent ‘Echolaia’ or ‘The Wild Swans’. Like many other works this painting quotes landscapes from seventeenth-century Dutch painting and figures from Renaissance works, but over all this impasto paint in brilliant colours weaves a synaesthetic dance across the composition. The painting fights with itself deciding what it should be; an overarching representational structure wins out, but nuggets of other ideas remain in the final impression. In this work it is most obvious in the disturbing Surrealist eyes scattered across the canvas.
This is an exhibition of endlessly intriguing pieces, with a range of media explored – from painting to taxidermy, and even a pop-up paper cut theatre. Andrews’s work reflects upon the fantastical and wonderfully brings together the rigidity of theatrical staging with a transitional falling away or decomposition into the spiritually abstract. ‘These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirit, and Are melted into air…’: Prospero’s words could very well be written about such works.
Image: Iain Andrews – The Creatures of Prometheus (2012) courtesy of Castlefield Gallery.