Catalogue for the Exhibition at Flowers
Armour for the broken-hearted, 2003
The work in Freya Paine’s exhibition Armour for the Broken Hearted is connected to the time of its making during the build up, duration and aftermath of the Iraq war. In the window of the gallery are a series of light boxes. In each one there is a small edifice made of twigs covered with a thin paper canopy inscribed with ribbons of words. The central sculpture contains the word hope written in neon. All three pieces have little drawers containing coins and bones. They feel like small wayside shrines where objects have been left by devout pilgrims in the hope of some divine intervention or the classification boxes of an archaeologist. Within the centre of the gallery stands a long thin oak plank table. Placed at one end is a cairn of strange little artefacts made from found wood – poplar and oak – carved and whittled into what, at first glance, look like a handful of whitened bones. Some have been painted, others are covered in tiny inscriptions and broken text. At the other end of the table is a pair of carved feet, the soles of which are inscribed with fragments of text such as: “all these promises that I made.” The piece is funereal, suggestive of a mortuary slab or the presence of the dead body of Christ taken from the cross.
Along the wall, at the head of the table, are a number of the little sculptural objects threaded with horse hair and tiny rings of inscribed bone like the votive offerings found dedicated to the statues of saints, believed to have healing powers, in Catholic churches from Italy to South America. In front of these stands a glass case of dried, threaded petals, while on the wall opposite the feet is a strange armorial shape inserted with quartz pebbles, also covered in fragments of text – the armour for the broken hearted. On the two side walls are a series of portraits; heads of people close to the artist. Some have their eyes downcast or shut; others part their lips as if about to speak only to find the words stillborn on their lips. They are painted with great sensitivity and detail, though the brush strokes, in soft muted greys and fleshy pinks, remain loose and free.
These portraits seem to act as silent witnesses to the staged event in the centre of the gallery. They are both inert voyeurs and shocked onlookers, each shut in his or her own individual space. Implicitly they appear to be asking questions about moral responsibility, culpability and indifference to the suffering of others. This is a very ambitious show. As a total installation it does not quite cohere, perhaps because it is too theatrical or, maybe because it is not quite theatrical enough. Nevertheless there is a tender beauty to the small votive objects, while the portraits have a power and a poignancy that is rare among young portrait painters today. To make work that stems from moral engagement and social concern, which is aesthetic rather than didactic, is a brave move in today’s climate of raunchy one liners.
Witness III, V & VIII, 2003
Freya Payne Armour for the Broken Hearted at Flowers from 8 to 31 January 2004
Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 2004
Images © Freya Payne 2003
Photography by Shaun McCracken