By nature, I’m a curious person. Especially when it comes to art. That’s essentially how Eleni Duke caught my attention with her ‘Curious Duke Gallery’. Located in a lovely 300-year-old Victorian building on Whitecross Street, it provides a home for the work of rising surrealist and urban artists from the UK. Indeed, the tiny art space, which opened almost two years ago, stands out as a fresh, tangible and – above all – non-elitist part of London’s art scene. An ‘anti-gallery gallery’, so to speak.
Last weekend, I abandoned the wonderful sunshiny weather for a short while and set out to discover ‘The Art of Curiosity’, the gallery’s beautiful new exhibition. The show’s spectrum is broad in scope and ranges from oil and water colour paintings to etchings and sculptures, encompassed by the overall concept of human curiosity for art. At first glance, it might seem difficult to curate an exhibition that includes the work of eighteen different artists in such a relatively small space. After wandering about the gallery for quite a while, the composition however granted me with a rare, terrific feeling: Every artist featured his or her unique subject, every single piece of art differed technically and conceptually from each other – and yet still everything aroused my curiosity equally. While there is so much inspiring art to marvel at, I’d pick Otto d’Ambra, Darragh Powell, Kate Knight and Dan Rawlings as my personal highlights of ‘The Art of Curiosity’.
‘Looking for the key’ is one of the dazzling etching works of Italian set designer and tattoo artist Otto d’Ambra. Captivated by the aesthetics in pictorial and graphic drawing, the influence of surrealism in his work is ubiquitous. D’Ambra’s delicate illustrations feature relatively simple elements and present interpretations of irony and criticism. Looking for the key describes people’s everlasting search for happiness – without considering the actual solution as something ‘hidden within us’. Instead of cherishing the important things that make life worth living, people often become restless and doubting. Such forms of social critique are apparent in many of his illustrations, whether it touches topics of gun violence, nostalgia or the harmful influence of media.
Darragh Powell’s expressive work particularly approaches the relationship of man and the, as he says, ‘paradoxically powerful yet fragile natural world’. The artist thereby illustrates how nature seizes control over the spectator and all human creation – an antithesis to the claim of mankind to utilize Mother Nature. Among all of his exhibited pieces, Powell’s outstanding ‘Trees in the sky #3: Black eye, purple sky’ fascinated me the most. It beautifully captures his leitmotif, conveying the impression of an observer, who is threatened by the tightening grip of the surrounding trees and casts his eyes up to the sky for redemption. This dark and haunting visual language is also further enhanced by the organic combination of motif and material – oil and ink on wood – generating the wonderful shimmery, shrouded colour-effect.
The œuvre of Kate Knight, a Kent-based graduate of London’s Chelsea College of Art and Design, excels in various aspects: Aiming to express the aesthetics of desire, sexuality and death, her strong imagery effortlessly sways from playful and uplifting to thoughtful and provocative. This thematic variety might be attributed to Knight’s curiosity to experiment with a wide range of techniques and materials. Most recently, she used water colours instead of oil and introduced gold leafs to some of her compositions, such as the truly stunning ‘The Bride’. The otherwise joyful setting leaves margin for a melancholic, thought-provoking interpretation of marriage: Gracefully trailing a garland of flowers, the white dove is yet chained to the earth by her meaningful commitment, emphasizing the crucial implications of her conduct.
In a way, Dan Rawlings’ art occupied my mind since I caught a first glimpse of ‘Our shadows’, which is displayed in the gallery’s front window. The playful installation depicting a young couple amidst a dark forest is delicately carved out of a fire extinguisher and beautifully illuminates its surroundings, when lit by a candle. Undoubtedly, the most striking feature of his work is the organic fashion to internalize unused and forgotten materials of our everyday life for his incredible sculptures. By solely using vintage elements, including saws, rusty grids, fire extinguishers or unused skateboards, he seeks to remind the observer of the world’s fragility. Beyond that, Rawlings work ‘The Tree House’ is a stunning inspirational statement to cherish the pragmatic genius of childhood and the ‘little things’ in life: Climb a tree, take a ride on the swing, build a tree house or just enjoy nature – like when we were kids.
The exhibition ‘The Art of Curiosity’ still runs until 17th August 2013 at Curious Duke Gallery, 207 Whitecross Street, London EC1Y 8QP.