Mayfair Art Weekend: Back on the Beaten Trail
As this weary year draws to a close, we may reflect by recounting the celebrations that were …
As this weary year draws to a close, we may reflect by recounting the celebrations that were forgone, the people we have missed, and the isolation we have endured in order to protect those we treasure most, as well as the stranger we know the least. The Mayfair Art Week was one such indulgence which risked the spread of this bug, and so was sadly shelved into the unknown future. This October, however, as the fog of uncertainty was lifted somewhat, the galleries of Mayfair once more swung open their doors to the public, and the hidden wonders within, revealed.
When we volunteered to be a part of the Mayfair Art Week team, we anticipated many of the challenges that social distancing and the laws surrounding it presented. Given that we were to be led by the veterans of the programme and titans of the galleries, we had great faith in our ability to pull off a stella weekend for everyone involved.
The collective thirty-two galleries involved put on extraordinary shows across the eight trails which were so named after various locations, patrons, and establishments. Quickly after being assigned to the Brown’s Trail (the namesake of Brown’s, a Rocco Forte Hotel), we acquainted ourselves with the astonishing exhibitions put out on the galleries which sit on the prestige streets of Dover and Albermarle. To talk of all the nine galleries on this trail, let alone the entire thirty-two, would be excessive for this article, so we will fix myself on three. Three galleries that captured the hearts of its artists, the minds of the public, and the spirit of Mayfair.
Eleanor Johnson: There Is A Rapture On The Lonely Shore
The first of these galleries delightfully doubles as a centre of fashion. The giant of a retailer, Paul Smith, hosts the workings of the emerging artist Eleanor Johnson in her candescent exhibition, There is A Rapture on the Lonely Shore. Her work immediately strikes you as being reminiscent of Old Master paintings, but these compositions only pulls a dream from that ancient era into life. Entangled with her own imaginings, Johnson evokes a tranquil time that has and would never exist, but sits in our consciousness all the same. The effect of these works being exhibited in the Paul Smith setting, is that by putting fragments of the past side-by-side with the current fashion, the modern clothes compound the anachronisms of the paintings. They also provide a lovely sight when you’re out on a shop!
GAZELLI ART HOUSE
Enter Through The Headset 5
The difficulties of this year forced industries across the nation to adapt, and to adapt quickly, otherwise simply become another casualty in the maelstrom of 2020. The nature of artistry usually means great and frequent change in normal times, often creating leaders of innovation in the process; the minds that head the management of the Gazelli Art House are progress in a picture. The gallery could almost be said to have foreseen such a calamitous occasion five years ago, when they debuted the first outing of their virtual reality (VR) exhibition, Enter Through the Headset (2015).
Showcasing the possibilities that virtual reality presents in the fine art practice, Enter Through the Headset established the Gazelli as a pioneer of the infant medium. The success of that first 2015 exhibition saw them through to committing themselves to an annual show. Having Championed the technology along with the artists for four years, the Gazelli Art House has re-affirmed its endorsement at the Mayfair Art Week with Enter Through the Headset 5 (2020).
On Friday the 2nd of October, we had our very first chance to experience virtual reality fine art pieces when we were taken through the exhibition. As we traded in countryside hikes for the Mayfair cityscape trails, this exhibition brought an altogether different journey. Virtual artist, Matteo Zamagni, once again presents his 2018 piece, Nature Abstraction. This shifting theatre pulls you into an infinite space, as you are surrounded by mathematical algorithms that convey biological forms. The prospect may fill you with apprehension; it is, at first, disconcerting, coming from reality into such a dramatic, virtual sphere. The motions of Zamagni’s fractal forms, however, ease you into a lull in a matter of minutes. Over the course of which, we were captivated by the sounds, sights, and mechanics of the endeavour. This was the case for many of the pieces in the gallery.
With the continued support of the Gazelli, VR has shown that it has a deserved place in the world of fine art. Its interactive and narrative versatility can take you from the Valley of the Kings in Egypt to the centre of a sunflower meadow, to soar above toppling statues – all of which this exhibition achieves. Many may be concerned by how the rise of this technology can hold us captive, but rather, I think these nascent advances set the stage for how we may yet be able to discover new freedoms, out from the shadows of isolation.
JOHN MARTIN GALLERY
Francis Hamel – Painting the Yellow Mountain
A must-see exhibition amongst the cluster of galleries in Mayfair, Francis Hamel’s collection of works marks the British painter’s first exploration of the landscape of the far east. The John Martin gallery impresses with Hamel’s Painting the Yellow Mountain. Here, his depictions of China and Hong Kong marks his first foray into the eastern landscape. Displayed over two rooms, the collection holds a selection of landscapes, many of which are painted in a portrait format in order to capture the immense verticality of the industrial city of Hong Kong. The semiotic nature of the upright, vertical plane of these works appear striking and intimidating as it leaves the viewer feeling small in comparison – reminding us that there are things much greater than ourselves. The artist realises this as he juxtaposes these striking, upright structures of the towering mountains of Huangshan and the skyscrapers of Hong Kong and Shanghai with the enduring presence of the natural world, which exists even in the busiest cities.
In his piece, Hong Kong, The Forest, his usual finely composed country landscapes are interrupted by indomitable Hong Kong towers, which rise beyond the frame. Rather than taking centre stage as with many of his other works, the flora slowly emerges the more the piece is interrogated. Hamel’s signature muted hues of blue and green affirm a subtle understanding of the course of reclamation nature will take on our human capitals, gently, and without desire. In Hong Kong, The Forest, we see an overflow of trees which intertwine and weave in and out of the landscape, resonating a balance and harmony in the overall piece.Hamel effectively uses the space of this restrictive, narrow canvas to portray a depth in the horizon by capturing high viewpoints of the landscape, as seen in traditional Chinese brush painting. The artist fuses these high, otherworldly viewpoints with an ingrained Western eye for topography and light. This is noticeable in his effective use of colour and light to portray spatial depth which is unending. More so, there exists a silence, as if one were detached.
In the foreground, certain objects are highlighted and brought to our attention, as seen in Hong Kong, Mid-Levels, Robinson Road. In this piece, a spotlight is place on the highway road to explicate its elevation and importance. Towards the background, buildings appear faded as blocks of colour and tone, resonating with our vision blurring in and out of focus. Through this, the artist creates an infinite depth in the landscape; only a keyhole of which is shown and ultimately exists beyond the canvas. Due to the high viewpoints which Hamel regularly employs, this often means that there are no figures or persons featured in these works, placing a great emphasis on subjectivity in the viewer’s experience, leaving them feeling isolated in this ethereal and iridescent world. These paintings hold a unique presence, drawing the viewer into an immersive experience as if one were inside the painting – suspended and alone.
The 2020 Mayfair Art Week, this year, paid an immense tribute to the cultural heritage of the district, and delivered a much-needed respite from the theatre of reality. My time at the Gazelli Art House, and around Mayfair in general, showed us how a reinvigorated art scene could reinvigorate people, and in turn, the nation. As strength can be gathered in our homes with our families, it also rests in our collective experiences, and that area is always more familiar than strange.