For Daniel Crews-Chubb’s first exhibition at Roberts Projects we are proud to present Chariots, Beasts and Belfies. Crews-Chubb makes compelling works that employ a traditional expressionistic, painterly language amid a conceptual framework investigating the potency of the iconic image and the dramatic dynamism of historic and contemporary visual repetition.
Wrestling with his primary influences of ethnographic art, ancient rituals, social media and Modernism’s artistic legacies, he creates organically progressive quasi-figurative paintings in series which rely on a group of constructed historic or mythic characters for the work’s physical structure and implied narrative, but are primarily conduits for abstract mark making, in what Matthew Collings has called “a musical abstraction of textures and contrasting positive and negative space.”
For the main thrust of the show, Crews-Chubb will exhibit his Chariot paintings for the first time. These paintings use, as their structure, the representation of the chariot as a symbol of the advancement of time, progression and excitement. As icons of the qualities assigned to the holder, the historical depiction of the chariot in hunting scenes demonstrated the power of an individual through the creation of visual forms of their power: images of hunting and military violence; embodying victory and defeat in harmonious relief. Mythical beasts and figures from the artist’s developed cast of characters bring their own power symbolism, and at times erotic iconography; placed in the midst of the chase, they simultaneously push and anchor the composition in complex cultural and political contexts.
Accompanying these animals is imagery from the Voynich manuscript, an illustrated codex of unidentified scientific botanical and figurative drawings accompanied by text in an unknown language. Dated to the early 15th century (1404–1438), the meaning and origin of the manuscript has made it the subject of speculation in both formal scholarship and aesthetic realm alike, and its enigmatic contents have long held a fascination for the artist. Rows of female nude figures in abstracted dancing poses, filled with emotion but devoid of identity, under the cover of wonderful flora and fauna find their way in his paintings in vivid colour.
Thus the repetition of motifs becomes a vehicle for exploring the act of painting itself, utilising seemingly casual gestures that are, in fact, worked and reworked to create hard won, layered paintings, predominantly depicting the nude. Interested in its magical force, Crews-Chubb’s treatment of the figure reflects its beauty, power and subtlety through its direct influences and broader affinities. Furthering this interest in the repetition and reinterpretation of historic subject matter and imagery is a new painting from his classic Belfie series of the nude assuming the role of God/Goddess.
A “Belfie” is a self-portrait of one’s bottom – a bum “Selfie” – fashioned for the most impact and attention on visual social media. The protagonists squeeze all their best assets into the frame of the photograph, contorting their bodies to show both breast and bottom. These performative self-portraits convey, despite blurred features, an unmistakable likeness through attributes of beauty, wit and affection.
Crews-Chubb’s intent is never merely to exploit his own presence as a means of evoking the viewer's visceral empathy, but primarily to radically expand the lexicon of possible sculptural forms, as to how they relate to the human image, to succinctly express the procession, sacrifice, and epiphany of modern life; not unlike the experience of a chariot-led hunt.
His paintings are abrasive, confrontational and, distinctly both childlike and profound. They share a perverse playfulness often linked to abstract expressionism, stemming from the empiricism of painters such as Willem De Kooning, Paul Gauguin, Georg Baselitz as well as the European Avant-Guard movement COBRA, yet closer inspection reveals abstracted images of psychological and physical force very much his own.
This is Crews-Chubb’s first solo presentation in a gallery in the US. His work is represented in the permanent collections of the Denver Art Museum, the Saatchi Gallery, London, and most recently, Beth Rudin DeWoody's Bunker Artspace, Miami. Notable solo exhibitions with Vigo Gallery include Jigs and Reels, Miami (2015); Shango, London (2016); Yasigi Denver (2017); and in association with Galerist, Zumbi and Belfie in Istanbul (2014). Daniel Crews-Chubb graduated from Turps Art School (London) in 2013, having previously completed his BA at Chelsea School of Art (London) in 2009. He lives and works in London, England.