B. 1930, Omdurman, Sudan
When Ibrahim El-Salahi is drawing he becomes lost in his work and has temporary respite from his sciatica and chronic back pain. For the last two years he has created an extraordinary body of work from the comfort of an armchair, refusing to let physical restriction limit his ambition, making around 190 tiny but incredible drawings in pen and ink on the backs of medicine packets, scraps of paper and envelopes.
Despite his physical restrictions, he still wished to communicate in an expanded format, using these drawings as a source or nucleus, pressing paint through a gauze onto strong woven linen canvas many times over until a thick inky texture was achieved, amplifying the character of the marks. Limited by his ailments, this method allowed him to do something that otherwise would not have been possible.
Throughout his career Ibrahim has returned again and again to the nucleus versus the whole and the organic opening up of an image. When in prison in the 1970s he drew on small scraps of cement casings, which he would join together while the guards were not watching. Thereafter all his black and white works were expansive in nature, whether starting with the nucleus and adding pieces of paper, letting the work grow organically, or in series within notebooks.
As far back as the 1950s Ibrahim was thinking how to engage people’s attention. Hence his first forays into what became known as the School of Khartoum. Disappointed by the lack of attention from his fellow countrymen and women when he showed his Slade work at the Grand Hotel in Khartoum in the late 1950s, he noted that if he wrote something in Arabic calligraphy on the drawings it attracted interest and people paused to look and read. The words and letters slowly then evolved as he began an exploration of the pictorial qualities and hidden shapes within calligraphic forms. It was a practical means to an end, a way into the work for the audience. The Pain Relief imagery includes a nod to these early works, with the artist making use of the pictorial possibilities of the braille on the medicine packets.
This body of work, made despite and because of circumstance, serves as a record of memory and contemporary experience fused with ambition to communicate.
Since completion of this project the artist has been inspired, re-entering his new studio for the first time in over two years—every day.
Born in Sudan in 1930, Ibrahim El-Salahi is one of the most important living African artists and a key figure in the development of African Modernism. El-Salahi grew up in Omdurman, Sudan and studied at the Slade School in London. On his return to Sudan in 1957, he established a new visual vocabulary, which arose from his own pioneering integration of Sudanese, Islamic, African, Arab and Western artistic traditions. In 2013, Ibrahim El-Salahi became the first artist of African birth to be given a full retrospective at Tate Modern. His work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; The British Museum, London; Tate Modern, London; The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, UAE; The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Newark Museum, Newark; Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah; The National Gallery, Berlin and many others.
* In January 2019 The Guggenheim, Abu Dhabi purchased a notebook of 83 drawings completed in the run up to his solo retrospective at Tate Modern in 2013. His Prison Diary, 1976, was also purchased last year by MoMA and has just been co-published in Arabic and English editions with the Sharjah Art Foundation.
B. 1960, London, UK
“Whereas the paintings which make up The Court of Redonda; 101 imagined members of a society that existed as an idea of an alternative political system, and the portraits of the court’s members were characters invented by me, these new portraits, made over the past twelve months are specific individuals.
The figures in these paintings are images of real people, some more well-known than others, whom I have a particular interest in. They are not members of any unified group, with shared interests or hold any consistent line. I am far from certain that they would all like one another. Since some are dead, they could never meet. Those living, reside in differing corners of the world, so are unlikely to know one another. Many are renowned, others at the beginnings of their careers.
They are though all affirmative, humanitarian, singular thinkers. They each have their own ‘voice’ and are/were not afraid defend their world view. Maverick is unfortunately a term loaded with stigma. (Thomas Maverick, a cattle rancher who identified his cattle as ‘any cow without a brand mark’, thereby claiming all the strays). I tend to be interested in those people who intellectually belong nowhere, and don’t ‘toe the line’. These paintings, I coyly hesitate to call them portraits, though that is what they are, are my reverential conversations with these characters. By making paintings of them I get to know them better. Even if it’s a one-way discourse.”
Born in 1960 in London, Stephen Chambers studied at Winchester School of Art from 1978 to 1979 and then at St Martin’s School of Art from 1979 to 1982. He graduated with a Mtaster’s from Chelsea School of Art in 1983. Chambers has won many scholarships and awards, including a Rome Scholarship, a Fellowship at Winchester School of Art, and a Mark Rothko Memorial Trust Travelling Award. Besides his painting and printmaking, Chambers has also collaborated on three dance projects with the Royal Ballet: Sleeping with Audrey (1996), Room of Cooks (1997, 1999) and This House Will Burn (2001). Chambers’ most recent major project was The Court of Redonda, a large portrait series shown first in Venice during the 2017 Biennale, and subsequently at The Heong Gallery at Downing College, Cambridge. Chambers has a long association with Downing College, having been Artist in Residence at Kettle’s Yard in 1998. He also received an Honorary Fellowship from Downing College in 2016.
B. 1990, Florida, USA.
Peterman’s recent paintings visually break down layers of code and conduct which influence the ontology of African Americans living in urban environments. These flatly painted, synthesised urban landscapes use colour, symbols, geometry, and space as metaphors for the separation of class that is often reinforced and accentuated by commodities and wealth within these communities. To reference the inequality of resources given to lower-income families, Peterman uses modernist linear connections to link the structures and to indicate flows of information and human connection, passageways through the socio-political landscape in which a multitude of dialogues spread.
Peterman was brought up in Prince George County, Maryland, immersed in a culture of music, dance, and hustling. The narrative around his works is inspired by observations of social issues within and around this region, the richest black county in America with a strong history as a conduit of safe passage and freedom from segregation in the Jim Crow south.
Through techniques used by post-war geometric artists, Peterman breaks down elements of social hierarchy within these synthetic spaces. He uses the geometric style to convey “absolute reality” and the colours as coding for different social. His symbols are designed to mark time, history, and spaces within which Black bodies have navigated and constructed new forms of identity. The framed structures along with the figures appearing and disappearing represent a temporal fractured moment illustrating how volatile the Black experience can be.
Born in Florida and raised in Maryland, Jamaal Peterman is a New York-based. He holds a BFA from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (2014) and an MFA from Pratt Institute (2019). He had his first solo exhibition at Artist Proof gallery in Washington DC, Georgetown (2018). He was awarded Smack Mellon’s 2019 Hot Pick, New American Painting 2019 MFA/South Issue and UICA juried Exhibition Finalist for Breaching the Margins exhibition (2019). He is a recipient of Mass MoCA residency and Wassaic Project residency and is represented exclusively by Vigo Gallery.
“My landscape work is about how black bodies navigate through urban space. The lines that connect the structures represent how information enters the community and how information leaves the community. They can also represent who has access to the space and who does not. Within these structures I use scale and size to show levels of hierarchy and class. I also use specific colours like shades of brown to represent black and brown bodies. The small rectangles, slants and X’s that are in the windows of the square shaped structures can be seen to mark how many people live/d in the household and who has and has not got access. The sidewalk or cement textured section represents memory or the disappearance of the physical identity. In this cement area I’m able to sequentially narrate a story about the landscape” (JP 2019)
Figures in the Landscape:
“The landscape becomes the background, and this allows these stereotypical figures to become the subject. The forms are phasing in and out of the landscape, referencing the disappearance and reappearance of black bodies in America. The symbols are a reflection of the thoughts that are informed by the everyday life of the people moving through that environment often having dual meanings depending on the landscape they are in” (JP 2019)
B. York, NY 1980
The source imagery for the work exhibited was collected during Brock’s research visit to the UCSB special collections library on his 2018 trip. Each is a cover image for promotional material created for and by The Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, describing their services, offerings, and a hoped for but unrealised community development.
“Spiritual growth in the New Age sense may well be characterised as an ongoing individual psychotherapy in which each of us is his/her own therapist, and unlimited freedom for creativity is the promised goal.” Wouter J. Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought.
A commitment to ritual is at the centre of Kadar Brock’s practice. Often working on multiple canvases at once, Brock creates dynamic, vibrant abstractions that are born from an arduous process of painting, scraping, priming, sanding, and painting again. It is a repeated action of creation and erasure, one that layers multiple compositions atop one another and embodies the physical, psychological, and pictorial records of their making.
Retaining a commitment to his established process, Brock layers paintings about personal memory, family history, and iconographies of New Age religion, alongside representations of masculinities found in the characters of American and Japanese comic books and film.
For Brock, it is important that each layer of the work is rendered completely, paying homage to the imagery it considers before it is deconstructed. The original image functions as a symbolic entity, only at times peeking through the final surface of the work by way of colour, shape, or shadow. In this sense, each painting is a memorial, full of ghostly referents. Yet, this assemblage is also an act of release, fusing multiple signifiers into one renewed object. The physical and emotional process of creation, often taking place over many years, enables a reverse archaeology of the self and renders a delicate balance between body, memory, and psychology. The titles of the work name the layers underneath, encouraging the viewer to take a slower, closer look.
In the fall of 2018, Brock travelled to Rains, Utah, a once vibrant mining town and the birthplace of John-Roger Hinkins, the leader of The Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness. Raised in MSIA, Brock was interested in visiting Rains to better understand New Age religion and its impact on his upbringing and current philosophies. On this trip he hiked to the now ghost town, photographing the terrain and gathering materials connected to his family history. rains schoolhouse, rains schoolhouse and little standard, western tipple, are the result of this trip, depicting the landscape and it’s abandoned structures. In these works, however, Brock has shifted the ritual of his production, foregoing his usual layer of primer between each action. As such the content is distinctly legible, appearing almost as photographic double-exposures rendered in oil.
Kadar Brock (b. 1980) is a graduate of the Cooper Union School of Art. He has exhibited internationally, with solo shows at Vigo Gallery, London; Patron Gallery, Chicago; Gallery Diet, Miami; Thierry Goldberg, NYC; Almine Rech, Brussels and the Hole, NYC as well as group shows at Praz-Delavallade, Paris; Brand New Gallery, Milan; Saamlung, Hong Kong; Horton Gallery, Berlin; and Sperone Westwater, NYC.
b. 1979, Tacoma, WA, USA
Abraham’s earlier optical works employed an intense additive pattern making strategy, which would act to stretch and unsettle the gaze. These were paintings full of the hustle bustle of the city. However, in his fresh oeuvre, he has succeeded in experimenting with a slower more elegant rhythm, a fuller shape and a more formal, minimalist language. Interestingly these paintings are derived from zooming in on the complicated patterns of these previous optical works, spotlighting fragments of these earlier illusions. By magnifying and subtracting pattern until a composition is rendered, Abrahams reveals an opportunity to celebrate the negative space both equally and simultaneously as a secondary image. The practice has gone from techno to contemplative. Appreciative of his own space, these meditative works more accurately reflect the artist’s natural character and speed whilst still satisfying his sense of meticulous work practice.
These slow, still, totemic- almost calligraphic forms fleet between their modernist simplicity and a subtle investigation into the effect of light on perception. The paint is applied with a palette knife, causing ridges to form, effecting the interplay between light and composition and inviting them tentatively in the realm between sculpture and painting. Abrahams is exhibiting works with hues of dark grey and dark blue, alongside those that he considers ‘beyond black’, slightly slowing and softening the speed at which we read the image. Whilst one cannot help being seduced by the implied movement and sculptural, almost architectural imposition of the composition, these paintings also operate on a subtler level, the softness of blurred reflection following one’s movement around the work in a quiet yet elegant fashion. Contemporary yet at the same time archaic and elemental these paintings satiate the desire for a calm contemplation whilst working on a primal visual level.