Friday 19 October 2012

Review of Paul Housley: England Sleeps at Poppy Sebire

Paul Housley: England Sleeps
Poppy Sebire
14 September – 20 October 2012

In an art world brimming with prolix paintings overstuffed with historical hyperawareness, the appropriation here constructs a refreshing picture of self-doubt within knowledge.” Such was ArtReview columnist Nigel Cooke’s comment on Paul Housley’s Self Portrait as Picasso’s Last Self Portrait (2011).[1] Clearly Housley must have a large dose of self-doubt then, as his current exhibition, his second solo show in two years with Poppy Sebire, is largely made up of further such appropriated portraits – depictions of himself as an artist, both through the act of making a painting, and in his alter-ego guise as Picasso, fully kitted out with beret, paintbrush, and “the Spaniard’s regulation school-of-Paris stripy shirt.”[2] Yet is it not a contradiction to contrast such work with a “historical hyperawareness”? Is this not precisely just such a case in point?

Housley’s works are virtually all cases of appropriation – be it of subject, image, or object – since he works primarily with found artifacts. His studio contains an ever-growing collection of strange and intriguing paraphernalia, bric-a-brac, and discarded works. Whereas previous exhibitions have largely comprised paintings of these objects themselves, this one is filled with appropriated images painted on to found canvases and frames, often spilling over the edge so as to unite the two components in their reincarnation. The works deal with the nature of what it is to be an artist, and, in their play on this, as well as in their homage to Picasso, several have spawned multiple eyes, including the small and dark Artist Wearing a Blue Beret (2012), and, most extravagantly, Totally Wired and Cranked Up Really High (2012).  At slightly larger than A1 size, this is by far the biggest work by an artist who prefers to produce pictures on a smaller-scale, thereby forcing his viewer to come closer and thus confront his own self-image head on with the image in the portrait staring back.

If one were to risk further artistic comparison, it is possible also to recognise an element of George Condo, but without the grotesque or cartoon features, and, of course, the famous pose of Matisse’s Nu bleu II (1952) is unmistakable in Green Thinker (2012). The paint is scratchy, messy, and seemingly carelessly applied, with a lurid pink skin tone, like something a child might pick out of a box of crayons. Nevertheless, there is an appealing quality to these simplistic images, which certainly are not as naïve as their surface appearance would suggest, carrying a deeper meaning and discourse, expressing both self-doubt and self-confidence, for it is surely not just anyone who would be audacious enough to take on the style of masters such as these.

[1] Nigel Cooke, “Now Hear This”, ArtReview, September 2011
[2] Ibid


All images © the artist and courtesy of Poppy Sebire

You Ain't No Punk You Punk
Oil on canvas
35 x 25.5 cm

Artist Wearing A Blue Beret
Oil on canvas
26 x 20 cm

Woman Showing Joy
Oil on canvas
60 x 45.5 cm

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