Art Criticism

Small is Beautiful XXVI
Flowers, London

Diamond skulls and pickled sharks – who needs them now? They are so last year, so boom before the bust. In these credit-crunch times, it doesn’t look so cool any more to be surrounded by over-hyped, over-priced stuff that simply announces the size of one’s executive bonus. After all, no one wants to look like a postmodern Marie Antoinette hanging out in their architect-designed glass loft extension with 1,000 ecologically unfriendly halogen light bulbs burning away to illuminate that very expensive dot painting executed by one of Damien Hirst’s assistants. Frankly, it doesn’t look hip, just cheesy.

Patrick Hughes Box of Love
Patrick Hughes
Box of Love

Now is the time for real art. By that, I mean paintings and sculptures where the artists have got their own hands dirty, not stuff that comes off a studio production line. So for those looking for a little affordable art to bring them some winter cheer, they could do worse than visit Flowers East’s annual exhibition, Small is Beautiful, in which a group of invited artists have made work in a variety of media within a size limit of 9×7 inches. And to bring a seasonal glow to the face, and a feel-good factor to the heart, the theme this year is “Love”. Eminent figures of the British art world such as Sir Anthony Caro, with his small steel Love Box, and Albert Irvin have been joined by an array of respected mid-career artists including Trevor Sutton, Carol Robertson and John Bellany to show alongside newcomers and selected recent graduates. Prices start as low as £58.

Right at the beginning of the exhibition, we get into romantic mood with Love in New York, a small painting by Daniel Preece, and A Symbol of Love (Pomegranate) by Susan Wilson. Elsewhere, Sam Mundy’s exuberantly abstract Je t’aime, executed in delicious sweetie colours, echoes Les Coleman’s Sweetheart further on in the exhibition, made from a collection of those sherbet love hearts with messages on them that we used to suck on the way home from school.

There is figurative painting, abstract painting and sculpture, and among the best of the figurative paintings on offer is Zara Matthews’s The Lovers’ Room. Painted in monochromatic shades of grey and white, this little work, showing a tousled bed of crumpled sheets and pillows, is both technically adept and evocative in mood. Claerwen James’s tiny portrait of a young girl, Who Did He Really Love?, is also redolent with understated emotion, as is the powerful little head by Freya Payne. The glowing lights from Tom Hammick’s caravan set under a starry sky in Off Pear Tree Lane evokes something lonely and uncanny. If, on the other hand, it’s a little humour you are after, there is always Glen Baxter’s small drawing of a man and a crocodile both wearing paper hats, and sitting under a paper chain, with a caption that reads: “It looked like another quiet family Christmas.” Not quite art, perhaps, but it will certainly raise a smile.

Vicky Hawkins The Result of a Passionate Love Affair Between Ethel & Adam
Vicky Hawkins
The Result of a Passionate Love Affair Between Ethel & Adam

Among the abstract works, there is John McLean’s colour ladder Avanti and Tess Jaray’s very cool, spare Pale Blue Drop, a small grid-like work on a turquoise green ground. Gary Wragg’s Vyner Street, Web Return 2 encapsulates something of the urban grittiness of this East End street known for its cutting-edge galleries. It is also good to see a lovely little painting, with its characteristic grid of colours (which is not for sale) by the late Noel Forster.

Of the sculptures, Philip King is showing a small table piece of classic modernist shapes in painted steel, wood and mixed media, which contrasts with Neil Jefferies’s quirky little curly-haired figure in painted aluminium and Nicola Hicks’s baby bronze elephant, collapsed on its knees, entitled Love.

With such a wide range of artists, there is something for everybody here. Some of the participants, such as Patrick Hughes, are very obviously populist and commercial, while others, such as Basil Beattie, are showing demanding, serious works. For less than the price of a designer handbag, or that bean-to-cup espresso maker, which will only ever be used a couple of times over the holiday period before being left to languish in its box, these small works of art are the perfect token of love.

Small is Beautiful XXVI at the London, London until Jan 3 2009

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 2009

Image: 1 © Patrick Hughes
Image 2: © Vicky Hawkins
Images Courtesy of Flowers Galleries

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