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Ellen Tovey – ‘Wake’ @ Stour Space

The way I stumbled into ‘Stour Space’ was actually quite accidental. On the hunt for a quiet, lovely place for some reading, writing and coffee sipping, far off my familiar routes around the East, I came across the promising ‘Counter Café’. Oh well, I had absolutely no idea that it was part of the same old warehouse building, which was about to become one of my favourite art galleries in London. Located along the Regent’s Canal and opposite of the Olympic Stadium in the formerly run down area of Hackney Wick – boasting the world’s highest density of artists per square meter – it offers an open gallery space and studios for artists within a creative environment. The premises of Stour Space have been the venue for many extraordinary exhibitions of young up-and-coming artists in the past four years and this tradition now continues with Ellen Tovey’s first London-based solo show ‘Wake’.

Thrice shortlisted for the prestigious ‘BP Portrait Award’, Tovey assembled a compelling collection of retrospective and current paintings that visually attempt to ‘explore and express the intangible’. This aspiration originates from the artists’ everlasting ‘desire to break facades’ and unveil the ‘inner being’ in her oeuvre. A closer look at her exhibits at Stour Space reveals that Tovey turns her artistic attention specifically at the naturalistic play of light and shadow.
Her most recent graphite drawing ‘Wake’, major work and eponym of the exhibition, is accompanied by a projected time lapse video showing its creation process. Effectively displayed at a separate wall piece, the mysterious and haunting presence of the portrayed young woman in ‘Wake’ is beautifully evoked by the use of meticulous but modest shading techniques. The bright acrylic composition of ‘Wonder’ however generates a totally different emotional appeal to me. Setting itself apart from the former exhibit, expressions of joy, hope and thoughtfulness are accentuated by a naturalistic arrangement of colour gradation and layering.

Besides the powerful imagery of trust, comfort and warmth portrayed in the rather dark composition ‘There There’, Tovey’s ‘Sunlight’ to me is by far the most captivating of all exhibited pieces. Illustrating the aged face of a dear old lady, laying in bed with closed eyes and a half opened mouth, conveys both the impression of human defeat, sadness as well as wisdom and tranquillity. This notion is – in many respects – owed to Tovey’s ability to realistically carve out her character’s wrinkled facial features, submitting to the play of light and shadow, which blurs the transition between image and reality.
In retrospect, it becomes pretty obvious why ‘Wake’ is just the perfect title choice for the collection of Ellen Tovey’s mesmerizing works at Stour Space: Due to the lively, naturalistic mimesis of her portraits, I can’t help feeling that her protagonists might awake from a distant reverie, set into motion and approach the observer, the longer I dare to stare at them.

The exhibition ‘Ellen Tovey – Wake’ still runs until 1st July 2013 at Stour Space, 7 Roach Road, Hackney Wick, London, E3 2PA.

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