|2000-2001||MA Fine Art||City and Guilds of London Art School, London|
|1975-1978||BA (Hons) Fine Art||Chelsea School of Art, London|
|ONE PERSON EXHIBITIONS|
|2016||The Death of the Artist||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2014||Nachrufe / Obituaries||BRAUBACHfive, Frankfurt|
|2014||Obituaries & Other Works||High House Gallery, Oxford|
|2013||D.OA. the Good, the Bad and the Beautiful||Gusford, Los Angeles|
|2012||Obituaries||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2011||9/10/11||KENNY SCHACHTER / ROVE, London|
|2009||An Existential Itch 2001-2008||BRAUBACHfive, Frankfurt|
|2009||An Existential Itch 2001-2008||Loading Bay Gallery, London|
|2008||An Existential Itch 2001-2008||Fishmarket Gallery, Northampton|
|2007||Death from Above||Sartorial Contemporary Art, London|
|SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS|
|2017||Part I: Street Semiotics (curated by Zavier Ellis)||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2015||Black Paintings (curated by Zavier Ellis)||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2015||Doppelganger||No Format Gallery, London|
|2014||The Great War||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2013||War||Jacob’s Island, London|
|2013||Six Degrees of Separation||Wimbledon Art Space, London|
|2012||The End||Jacob’s Island, London|
|2012||The Saatchi Gallery & Channel 4’s New Sensations and THE FUTURE CAN WAIT (curated by Zavier Ellis, Simon Rumley & Rebecca Wilson)||B1, Victoria House, London|
|2012||The Serpent’s Tail||Witzenhausen Gallery, Amsterdam|
|2012||Polemically Small (curated by Zavier Ellis & Edward Lucie-Smith)||Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham|
|2012||The Id, the Ego and the Superego (curated by Zavier Ellis & Marcela Munteanu)||BRAUBACHfive, Frankfurt|
|2011||THE FUTURE CAN WAIT presents: Polemically Small (curated by||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|Zavier Ellis, Edward Lucie-Smith, Max Presneill & Simon Rumley)|
|2011||The Saatchi Gallery & Channel 4’s New Sensations and THE FUTURE CAN WAIT (curated by Zavier Ellis, Simon Rumley & Rebecca Wilson)||B1, Victoria House, London|
|2011||Polemically Small (curated by Edward Lucie-Smith)||Klaipeda Culture Centre, Klaipeda|
|2011||THE FUTURE CAN WAIT presents: Polemically Small (curated by Zavier Ellis, Edward Lucie-Smith, Max Presneill & Simon Rumley)||Torrance Art Museum, Torrance|
|2011||The Possessed (curated by John Stark)||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2010||THE FUTURE CAN WAIT (curated by Zavier Ellis & Simon Rumley)||Shoreditch Town Hall, London|
|2010||Press Art||Museum der Moderne, Salzburg|
|2010||Papyrophilia||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2009||THE FUTURE CAN WAIT (curated by Zavier Ellis & Simon Rumley)||Old Truman Brewery, London|
|2009||New London School (curated by Zavier Ellis & Simon Rumley)||Gallerie Schuster, Berlin|
|2008||New London School (curated by Zavier Ellis & Simon Rumley)||Mark Moore Gallery, Los Angeles|
|2007||Still Life, Still||T1+2 Gallery, London|
|2006||New London Kicks||Wooster Projects, New York|
|2005||Fuckin’ Brilliant||Tokyo Wonder Site, Tokyo|
|2005||Art News||Raid Projects, Los Angeles|
|2005||Art News||Three Colts Gallery, London|
|2005||USUK||Lab Gallery, New York|
|2005||Green Door||Sartorial Art, London|
|2004||Forest||Rockwell Gallery, London|
|2003||Chockafukingblocked||Jeffery Charles Gallery, London|
|2002||Yesteryearnowadays||Hales Gallery, London|
|AWARDS & RESIDENCIES|
|2003||Fresh Art ‘Artist of the Year’|
|2011||THE FUTURE CAN WAIT||Exhibition Catalogue|
|2008||THE FUTURE CAN WAIT||Exhibition Catalogue|
|2008||An Existential Itch, Craig Burnett||Fishmarket Publications (ISBN 978-0-9555 706)|
|Wendy Asher, Los Angeles|
|Jerry Hall, London|
|Mauritz Huntzinger, Frankfurt|
|Angela Nikolakopoulou, London|
|Peter Nobel, Zurich|
|Kelsey Offield Ford, Los Angeles|
|Kenny Schachter, London|
|Steve Shane, New York|
|Bill Wyman, London|
|Wooster Projects, New York|
|Private collections in China, Germany, United Kingdom & United States|
|EXHIBITION DATES Friday 14 September – Saturday 13 October 2018|
|CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is delighted to announce Hugh Mendes’ third solo exhibition with the gallery.
Mendes is recognised for finely rendered obituary paintings that operate simultaneously as portrait and still life. This obsessive
project, ongoing now for over ten years, evolved originally from making still life paintings of newspaper cuttings. Considering still
life’s metaphorical function within the history of Western art from 16th century Netherlandish painting onwards, adopting the
obituary as a singular subject enabled Mendes to embrace and affirm the inherent meaning of memento mori: remember death.
In this series Mendes continues from his 2016 exhibition ‘The Death of the Artist’, which represented a shift from painting various
notable figures whose life and work resonated with Mendes, to recently deceased artists only. Significantly, in this exhibition
Mendes turns backwards to paint heroic artists from throughout the centuries, all of whom have expressly impacted upon him and
his practice. And in using their own self-portraits as source material, Mendes has been able to engage profoundly with the artists’
“I used Lucian Freud’s self-portrait a few years ago, then continued to explore this theme with others, such as Francis Bacon and
Michael Andrews. This gave me a fascinating new perspective, as I was engaging with their psychology and how they saw
themselves. It also allowed me to engage with their idiosyncratic use of paint and perhaps consider a degree of existentialism.”
Indeed, this process has facilitated a meditation on and enabled a conversation with the titans of art history: Picasso, Matisse, van
Gogh, Cézanne, El Greco, Vermeer, Rembrandt and Goya all feature. During the making of each of these paintings, Mendes has
engaged profoundly with the personality of the artist, investing in and befriending them. He will talk with fondness of the
characteristics of every subject, as well as the challenge of integrating their techniques with his own. Each painting, therefore, is
activated differently, and represents an audacious synthesis of contemporary and historical painting.
|EXHIBITION DATES: Friday 14 September – Saturday 13 October 2018|
|In this fascinating series based on the self-portraits made by a number of extremely eminent artists from the past, Hugh Mendes offers an examination of what this form of activity has meant to the Western canon.
Self-portraits are not common in non-Western artistic traditions. Here in the West, on the contrary, they have played an important role in defining the meaning and purpose of art. Certain major artists, among them both Rembrandt and Van Gogh, exist within the sphere of the popular imagination through the series of images they made of themselves. In no other sphere of creative activity has the direct, unflinching examination of the self played such a major part. Autobiographical texts play the same role in classic literature, but do not occupy nearly such a central place. Music is sometimes autobiographical by implication – when it does so, usually with the aid of words. It is hard to think of examples of architecture serving as a tool for self-examination.
It is therefore paradoxical that an artist should now choose to repeat, as exactly as he can, these originally self-generated likenesses. In part this belongs to a recently established tendency in the visual arts, where ‘appropriations’ – more or less exact copies of pre-existing images – are put forward as embodiments of contemporary originality.
Yet in this case there is something that goes much deeper. In making these paintings, Hugh Mendes also looks to another model – that is, he offers these versions as surrogates for the photographic portraits that often accompany obituaries in newspapers. An obituary of this sort, with its accompanying image, indicates that the person so commemorated has achieved a certain degree of importance within contemporary society.
That is, these are no longer simple acts of self-examination, obediently copied, but tributes to the enduring celebrity these often long-departed personalities have achieved, and to the way in which they now continue to resonate in the popular imagination after their demise. What they say is: ‘Yes, this person is still very much alive to us.’
One can also suggest a further dimension. Basically, what is offered here is a series of cultural icons. It is not going too far to say that they are the equivalents of the sacred images one might find in a church.
We live in a time when this hunger for and sense of the sacred have been displaced from the purely religious settings they once seemed to occupy. Rather than celebrating rituals in church, we now very often subscribe to a more general cult of ‘the creative’.
The growth of interest in self-portraiture, from the time of the Renaissance onwards, can be regarded as being part of this. Essentially, self-portraits offer not simply a likeness that external observers will recognise, but an invitation to penetrate the innermost recesses of creativity. Another paradox here: in doing so, the observer is often made aware of the huge gap that exists between the maker of the self-portrait and himself (or, as the case may be, herself). The self-portrait thus alienates at the same time as it penetrates. We can never be Rembrandt. We can never be Van Gogh. Nor would we, in all honesty, wish to be either.
|Exhibition: The Death of the Artist|
|Exhibition Dates: Friday 14 October - Saturday 12 November 2016|
|He whose portrait we offer you,
Whose art subtler than all others,
Teaches us to laugh at ourselves
He is a sage, gentle reader. i
‘Verses for the Portrait of Honoré Daumier’. Charles Baudelaire.
Hugh Mendes’ ‘unnervingly prophetic’ painting of a press photo of Osama Bin Laden holding a gun to an image of the head of George W. Bush in 2001 heralded a practice that has concentrated on painting as a form of obituary. In a curious way these paintings also pass for still life concerned as they are with iconography, mortality, genre and representation all of which, as the tradition dictates, are explored in a shallow depth of field. Mendes’ paintings are quiet meditations, little games involving hybrids and oppositions: painting/photography, original/reproduction, representation/illusion, portrait/still life, private/public, image/icon, life/death.
The exhibition The Death of the Artist includes painted obituaries of artists of special significance to Mendes, including some that he has known for many years. But, as Baudelaire writes, ‘There are some who have never known their Idol’ and Mendes paints these artists too.ii Being filmed painting Obituary: Lucian Freud was an enjoyable experience for the artist though Mendes hadn’t known Freud in life.iii Painting an obituary, according to Mendes, brings them close. Artists whose deaths have occurred in recent years including Anthony Caro, Bruce Lacey and Ellsworth Kelly feature in The Death of the Artist. ‘Every now and then, a well known artist would die and take their turn at my easel’ he says.iv However, these paintings mark more than an artist’s passing, they also mark time, the artist’s time and the art of a time, and in doing so they also become art historical.
The obituary is a written notice of a death to be found in a newspaper—a respectful summary of a life in the spirit of a memory. Inherent in its origin, ‘obit’ (from the Latin), is the notion of going forward towards something else. Taken this way, Mendes’ painted obituaries can be understood as more than mere recollection of a life. But a question also emerges: Just whose life is being remembered here? Artist, icon, or image, or are they too close to call?
An obituary also condenses a life into a narrative text printed onto newsprint or, as more recently, digitized for screen. The thing that distinguishes Mendes’ painted obituary from the written version, other than the fact of its being painted on canvas, is the absence of narrative. And it seems important here to remind the reader that these painted obituaries are not intended as ‘lives’, the visual equivalent to Vasari’s for example. Instead they are paintings of printed images of the famous that are usually peremptorily trashed, or deleted, after a day in the life of a newspaper.
Mendes appropriates these printed images of popular or venerable icons brought fleetingly to the public’s attention by their death, and uses the framework of the obituary to make them become something else in painting. He then swerves away from the protocol of the obituary to cast his practice into conversation with traditional seventeenth century conventions of the vanitas, memento mori, trompe l’oeil and I would suggest, the printed emblematic portrait, before easing it back into the culture of contemporary painting. In doing so, his painting becomes intertextual, reverential
and referential. His style of painting embodies some of the characteristics of the photographs he paints. Like a photograph his self-effacement is made possible by the near absence of material gesture, or at least as near as his pace of painting permits. This absence leaves his obituaries open to others—to be ‘read’, to feel attachment.
In 1651 the artist David Bailly painted Self Portrait with Vanitas Symbols, a painting of himself as a young man, surrounded by the accumulated objects of a successful career as a painter. The artist placed a much smaller self-portrait in an oval frame upright under his left hand on the table beside him. In this tiny self-portrait he depicted himself as an older man, the age he was at the time of the painting. Intended to outlive the painter, the painting affirms the value of painted resemblance as a form of legacy. Bailly, however, took the added precaution of painting his larger likeness in his prime, in pride of place.
When a painting is made of an actual person, like Bailly’s for instance, the painter is concerned to construct an illusion of semblance, substance, weight and form. When a painting is made from a photograph of a person, the painter is left ‘only’ with the problem of making a semblance of a piece of paper on which is printed, not an illusion of the person, but a copy of them as recorded through the lens of a camera. How do we know then that it is the latter that Mendes paints? It is because the slimmest of shadows adheres to a piece of paper in a way that the cast shadow of a head does not. It is this painted attached shadow that inhibits his paintings from becoming icons. The shadow creates an infinitely thin opening for the photographic image to exist between physical canvas and illusory picture plane.
‘Photographic connotation’ writes Barthes ‘like every well structured signification, is an institutional activity; in relation to society overall, its function is to integrate man, to reassure him’.v Mendes’ painted obituaries would seem to unsettle this claim to reassurance. His paintings of photographs are unsettling.
The Obituaries bear some resemblance to the trompe l’oeil portraits of Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts (1630-1675) though it is their similarity in appearance rather than intention that is striking. I suggest that Mendes shows little inclination to dissemble in the manner of Gijsbrechts or, for that matter, to startle with photographic lifelikeness as in the portraits by the younger Chuck Close, or the photographic verisimilitude found in Gerhard Richter’s portraits. On the other hand Matt Collishaw’s Last Meal on Death Row series (2011) does make for an interesting comparison, if only in their form of remembrance. Collishaw’s photographs depict the last meals chosen by prisoners on Death Row. Made in the manner of a seventeenth century breakfast piece, they are also ‘portraits’ of those already dead. As such they are memento mori, and not obituary.
By representing the subject of the obituary thrice removed, as photograph/newspaper image/still life painting, the artist is still only painting what he sees. It is the way in which he draws his painting into conversations with historical and contemporary painting and photography that expands their depth and accrues for them their meaning and significance.
There is another important feature of Mendes’ painting, the picturing of text: titles above the photographs, notes that adhere to a thing prior to being photographed, or adhered to the surface of the photograph prior to painting. Sometimes, as in Obituary: Tom Lubbock, lettering other than the title is left as a trace of a more casual gesture. In SS Margaret, the title of the sitter, Princess, was cropped to playful effect. Picasso pulled the same trick in Still Life with Chair Caning (1912) when he
cropped the title of a newspaper (Le Petit Journal) to turn ‘journal’ into ‘jou’ (French for game). Text in Mendes’ work is always carefully considered. In a painting marking the Charlie Hebdo attacks made in collaboration with the artist Harry Pye in 2015, printed newspaper text becomes the primary, and only, object and image for painting.
There is little by way of context in these paintings other than what appears in the original photographs, though they are arguably self-contextualising when presented as a series. Sometimes, however, a clue remains. Cy Twombly’s identity bracelet, for instance, is an object that lets something slip in an otherwise inscrutable pose. Occasionally, things coalesce, as happens in Tom Lubbock’s greying temple, a place on the painting where time and pigment run out together. Such events are pure painting.
© Frances Woodley September 2016
i Baudelaire, Charles, trans. William Aggeler. ‘Verses for the Portrait of Honoré Daumier’. The Flowers of Evil. Fresno, AA: Academy Library Guild, 1954.
ii Baudelaire, Charles, trans. William Aggeler. ‘The Death of Artists’. The Flowers of Evil. Fresno, AA: Academy Library Guild, 1954.
iv Mendes, Hugh. Artist statement, 2016.
v Barthes, Roland. Image, Music, Text. London: Fontana Press. 31.