Pink-Me-Ups! New exhibition at Old Brompton Gallery is a window on three extraordinary contemporary artists, By James Brewer
Three provocative painters parade their sometimes startling works in the second exhibition at the newly established Old Brompton Gallery in Kensington. Misha Milovanovich, Alexandros Vasmoulakis and Woozy (Vaggelis Choursoglou) offer plenty to chew over in exuberant canvases drenched in colours including the one in the title of the group show: Pink-Me-Ups!
Belgrade-born, London-based Misha shows examples of her cheeky Chewing Gum series, and images of basic, found objects; Athens- and London-based Alexandros challenges viewers with his dynamic expressionistic scenes; and Athens-born Woozy, a street art exponent, deals a new hand in iconography.
Woozy’s shocker is an in-the-face, and in-the-front window, 120cm by 86cm portrait entitled Elizabeth, for which he took his paintbrushes to superimpose on a digital print of the Queen’s banknote head unwonted paraphernalia including comical headgear and a distinctly un-regal gown.
This eye-opener of a mixed-media canvas at first glance appears disrespectful, with what might be considered its mocking accoutrements, blue paint deliberately streaking down the monarch’s visage and garment, and flames leaping from the base of the whole. In fact, the Queen’s formal demeanour is so calm and composed that it leaves a strong impression of untouchable majesty. Thus, in the words of the curator and gallery director Michaela Vergottis, pieces such as this transcend the limitations of specific setting or familiar face, to “embrace a sense of the universal beauty found in the abstract.”
Woozy’s window-displayed image of Her Majesty turns out to be stationed in a street with royal aura. Old Brompton Gallery is located directly opposite the mansion block where Diana, Princess of Wales lived before her marriage to Prince Charles. Between mid-1979 and February 1981 Lady Diana Spencer stayed in the luxury Coleherne Court apartment bought for her 18th birthday by her mother. At the time, what is now the gallery premises was an electrical shop. A long-time resident of the area told Ms Vergottis that Diana would have appreciated being able to pop into an arts space nearby – contemporary art was among her many interests (in June 1995 she visited the Venice Biennale).
Paint dripped down the canvas is also a feature of Woozy’s large work Ark, although rather than an ark of creatures, it is an ark of architecture, filled with shapes of houses; and in Diogenes, this time a work in oil, carbon and pastel on paper, the boxy houses are again evident.
Woozy, who studied in Athens and Lisbon, was a founding member of Carpe Diem, a Greek non-governmental organisation promoting urban culture and alternative sports events, and travels widely to produce his street art. In 2005 in one of his co-operation projects with Brazilian street artists OsGemeos (The Twins) and other artists, Woozy painted a large mural for the bus station near the Technopolis Centre in Athens. Among other successes, he has had a solo show at the Outsiders Gallery in Greek Street, London in 2010.
In her Chewing Gum acrylics on canvas, and in limited edition giclée prints on archival paper, Misha reinvents classic motifs of surrealism in pop-art style. A sculptural rendering of neon-hued gum floats above a contrasting but complementary colour background. She is tackling what she calls “the overwhelming might of the disposable economy (its endless flood of mass production and waste), ” by using gum to illustrate “the contradictions between the desired and the discarded… the promise of temporary refreshment versus the reality of sticky, near-permanent pollution.”
Despite this being society’s detritus, she finds “beauty in these forms, an unexpected beauty, made all the more resonant for being raised up and made luminous before being trampled underfoot.” The depictions of the gum might remind some people of anatomical representations of a brain or a heart. Misha makes “these lost-and-found-again objects float in a Magritte sky, where their weightlessness conjures up a secular version of religious iconography, ” as she puts it.
Further abandoned and usually unloved ‘found objects’ are re-worked by Misha in individual representations: bow tie, little boy mannequin, and a simple nail – a nail which one construction industry person visiting the gallery found strikingly realistic. Acrylic, wash, pen and marker pen are employed, and close-up one sees the fine detail in the drawing. In the colour combinations in other works such as Supermodel and Good times are Coming (Disco remix) one is reminded that Misha’s talents include designing kaleidoscopic-patterned silk scarves.
Misha, who works across all media from sculpture to painting to live art, has been described as a “cultural polymath.” According to the gallery, she “is constantly engaged in observing human nature and its distortions of desire and lust, filtered with our insincerely extroverted, post-crash neuroses. She executes her work “with the rigorousness of a scientist.” Her work is “expressionistic, minimalistic and surreal in her use of hyper-specific detailing.”
Despite the overarching societal messages, Misha’s work is described as “highly personal and biographical.” Among those who have inspired her are her mentor, the German artist Martin Kippenberger (1953–1997); Roy Lichtenstein; American abstract expressionist Philip Guston, and on the even more contemporary scene Gilbert and George, Turner Prize winner Keith Tyson, Houston-based Robert Pruitt and Scotland’s Jim Lambie.
With a background including outdoor murals and installations, Alexandros Vasmoulakis has taken a new tack in his latest offerings, which are based on the themes of couples and relationships. These include The Dancers, oil and acrylic on canvas, with a contrast between his entwined adult cartoon-style figures and alienation: an air of distance and detachment.
An even larger work in the same medium, at 110 cm by 140 cm, is dominated by a strange figure full of corporeal ambiguity. Hands, arms and legs are animal figures, and the shapes are reinterpreted as the viewer steps away from the painting. A pink fluorescent light glows at the side of the mysterious character. Alexandros has said that he “reconnoitres erroneous visuals and also explores those alternative thoughts, which mainly occur when seeing something from a different angle.”
His international career has included hosting an urban art show in Athens showing up global and particularly Greek political instability, and in that capital he has painted tableaux on doors, telephone boxes, hoardings and on buildings up to 10 stories high. His participations more formally include the Liste Fair, the “younger” version of Art Basel, and more of his work is confidently expected to be seen in London later in 2015.
What unites the three artists featured in the show? The answer is their “shared passion for texture, light and colours, which playfully invite the audience to effortlessly uplift their mood and create a happy, long-lasting memory, ” says Michaela.
One could add that this Pink–Me–Ups! mélange of ‘material abstraction’ will be a pick-me-up for those seeking something specially dynamic on the contemporary art scene.
London-born Michaela Vergottis hails from a family originating in the Ionian island of Kefalonia and long prominent in commercial shipping. She is one of the few members of the family who have sought a career outside the maritime industry, her CV including spells with Sothebys and Bonhams. She is now an independent consultant for private and corporate clients and family offices, collaborating with auction houses and art funds to help build and manage collections and arts projects.
The exhibition Pink-Me-Ups! is at Old Brompton Gallery, 238 Old Brompton Road, London SW5, until September 7 2015. www.oldbromptongallery.com