Monday, 26 November 2018

Siobhan Stanley's COMMUNION Exhibition

Casting Mist
What I thought, thanks to Google maps, was going to be an 18 minute walk over firm ground from Robertsbridge Station to Siobhan Stanley’s Private View of her debut exhibition COMMUNION at the blackShed gallery, turned out to be a 35 minute slog in the dark, in drizzling rain over muddy bridle paths complete with dead ends in fields and trailer parks. 

I’d seen her work on line I was determined to see it in the flesh. 

I eventually arrived very damp. Once I’d taken my sopping wet coat off and cleaned my steamed-up glasses to begin looking at the works, I was greeted by a lady who demanded to know ‘Are you one of the models?’ just as I was trying to read the catalogue thru my glasses as they continued to steam up again. The gallery was small and packed and as I was still damp from my walk it was all very steamy for me. Thus, my introduction to Siobhan’s work in person was physically and personally challenging.

I was not disappointed. Once I could see, I was delighted that I’d made the effort.

My introduction to Siobhan’s work was Casting Mist on Instagram an intimate double portrait of two friends, confidants or conspirators caught sharing a whispered secret with me the viewer as an eavesdropper, the two are oblivious of my presence yet I feel I’m an interloper witnessing something I shouldn’t. That sense of shared intimacy between the sitters pervades her work with the viewer as an intruder catching a quiet shared moment between confidants. Such is the mood of her work.  The same mood of shared intimacy, this time not so conspiratorial is to be found one of her other double portraits A Little Wing Serpent. It was not just the mood of her work that caught me attention it was her lighting: soft muted Vermeer like, creating calm still effects, making her portraits serene, tranquil sometimes pensive. 

A Little Wing Serpent
So Gaz'd On Now
Her pensive tension is wonderfully caught in So Gaz’d On Now were eyes and eye contact guide the viewer around this triple portrait with the sitter on the far left though on the edge of the painting is clearly the centre of attention as the other two look to him and he gazes searchingly out of the painting at me, the viewer. With her subtle use of lighting Siobhan further emphasises that the figure of the left is the centre, waiting for me to speak or is about to speak himself, a moment of brooding intimacy has been caught.

The fact that the majority of her work features portraits of young black men adds to the wonder and power of her work for me. I am minded of Kehinde Wiley, as he too creates seemingly incongruous juxtapositions of black male bodies, Kehinde riffs on history painting compositions from the white Western canonical art such as his Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps (2005) which plays on David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1801) while Siobhan takes her inspiration from the attire and setting of Elizabethan gentlemen similar to those to be found in Nicholas Hillard miniatures without their stiffness or formality.

Kehinde Wiley (2005)       Jacques-Louis David (1801)
Siobhan Stanley (201X)          Nicholas Hillard (1547)
COMMUNION’s catalogue says Siobhan is ‘summoning us to rethink our notions of black history and relativity of truth itself’ I was minded of my own John Blank Project  and her COMMUNION exhibition share a common vision in that statement as my Project encourages one to ‘imagine  the black Tudor trumpeter’ while Siobhan’s COMMUNION invites one to ‘imagine the black Elizabethan gentlemen’.

As for that question which was my introduction to COMMUNION,  at the time I answered with a surly ‘No!’ Now having seen her work my answer has to be ‘I’d love to be!’ as to be portrayed as the catalogue describes her work with that ‘quiet pride, integrity and power’ found in all her work in COMMUNION would be an honour.