British painting and politics

Dominate Your Ground, by Mark l'Anson

By Alan Kilpatrick in Britain:

Coalition Blues

Mark L’Anson

Friday 05 October 2012

I would be lying if I did not admit to approaching this latest exhibition by artist Mark l’Anson with a sense of trepidation.

Its title, seemingly plucked from the front page of a tabloid newspaper, says it all and affirms that l’Anson is no stranger to politics.

It takes a certain skill to combine politics with art while steering past the avenues of cliche along the way.

The first of two paintings to be seen on the approach to the Open Eye is Hero, an intimate and melancholic portrait of a sailor, begging the question as to whether he really is a hero or just one more sad victim of his profession.

The other, In The Thick Of It, is an uncomfortable painting modelled from a salvaged statue of the Virgin Mary adorned with gas masks. The juxtaposition of these two works forces a smile and my initial apprehensions are allayed.

L’Anson has asserted himself and invites us to enter like guests at a dinner party where the only topics for conversation will be politics and religion.

Within the gallery the mood soon changes and we are welcomed not to the nightmare dinner but to the circus. Everyone is a clown in here, with a part to play under this big top.

L’Anson has summoned characters from exhibitions spanning a decade or more – footballers, rioters, suffragettes, clowns, sailors, mannequins and jesters all gathered here to entertain us. There is a theatricality at work, almost as if we’re in the midst of some Brechtian enactment.

Do You Wanna Try The Big Top has a woman standing precariously on a tightrope.

Closer examination reveals that she is not as young as one would expect. Instead she’s a woman near pensionable age, desperately auditioning for a new career in order to make some extra hard-earned cash.

Presumed Innocent has a crumpled figure on the ground being beaten by police officers in the ’70s. Images of Ian Tomlinson’s death spring to mind.

Pretending To See The Future, a triptych, not only references religious altarpieces, it’s a reminder of l’Anson’s earliest works where mannequin heads dressed in gas masks, helmets and collected objects are painted to resemble prophets and religious icons.

Career Opportunities has a bizarre portrait/caricature of George Robey, the music hall performer.

He is like someone out of a Hogarth painting – a reference not lost when one looks at the other characters that inhabit this circus.

There is no propaganda here. The characters, whether fashioned out of objects, collaged from snapshots or simply invented, create an amalgam of individuals who are left to play their parts and touch our senses with humour and wit within this great political circus of life.

The loaded images in this exhibition take time to deconstruct and are painted with integrity and skill in l’Anson’s assured hands.

He avoids cliche and, following firmly in the footsteps of Hogarth, sits confidently within the genre of sequential art where contemporary moral concerns take their place within the political arena.

Runs until October 16. Free. Opening times: (0131) 557-1020.

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