This new exhibition by Scottish artist Andrew McIntosh features eight new oil paintings of largely run-down buildings, most of them in south-east London where he lives. It’s appropriate, therefore, that they should be on display at the Bo.Lee gallery in Peckham.
They’re rendered in extraordinary detail and texture, almost like a photograph, with deft mark making rendering every fine detail of decay and decrepitude. The closer you look the more surreal and multi-themed the buildings become.
First, you notice that in each work one of the rooms has been opened out to reveal a brightly coloured interior in contrast to the rest of the building.The effect is of a full-size doll’s house. He’s used this technique in past series and it’s an originality that has become something of a signature.
Closer still and you notice a painting hanging in each of the rooms. Then, with a bit more concentration and a knowledge of 20th century art history, you may recognise that the paintings are miniature copies of works by leading artists made in the 1940s. Each of McIntosh’s works is named after the miniature master that’s included. The top shot features Frida Kahlo’s Broken Column.
Accompanying the paintings in the room are what at first seem like sculptures but on closer inspection – and we’re getting almost microscopic now – turn out to be medieval instruments of torture. So how does all of this fit together? The answer is on many levels.
For a start, there’s an element of mild protest in the works. The contrast between the bright, artistic elements and the poor state of the rest of the house is a metaphor for how London’s high cost of housing is affecting artists. “Since I’ve been in London, about 40% of the friends I met when I first moved here have now left,” he tells me as we walk round the exhibition. “It’s difficult to afford being an artist in London especially with all the gentrification going on.”
Then there’s the relationship between the artist and torture. The reason for picking works from the Second World War period is because of the Nazis’ view that ‘modern art’ was degenerate, a view that caused much suffering for those concerned. The picture above includes one of Paul Klee’s final works which in McIntosh’s opinion is the strongest depiction of suffering relating to the war.
McIntosh has put a lot of thought into matching the paintings he references to the torture devices juxtaposed. In the Klee, for example, he used a pillory, a device used to humiliate the offender. In artistic terms, the three circles in Klee’s painting match those of the pillory.
Lucifer, above, is the first Jackson Pollock painted using his pouring technique. McIntosh places the stocks next to it to symbolise how Pollock was being repressed by traditional ideas yet was able to break free and express himself so much more as a result. McIntosh loves his contrasts too, epitomised by the brightness of the Pollock and the drabness of the house.
The building above is a former workhouse, now a hospital, in Cork in Ireland. McIntosh has made it more derelict with brick infill and boarded up windows. He’s included the painting Fury by Francis Bacon, painted in 1944 which hangs beneath a claustrophobically proportioned cage. Bacon often painted people caged in, literally and metaphorically. McIntosh is pleased with the result despite initial difficulties.
“When I was painting it, I was starting to feel it was wrong, it wasn’t fitting in with all the urban scenes. But when the Bacon went in the room and I made the grass green, it came to life. It all made sense.”
The painting within the painting above was chosen for yet another layer of meaning. I assumed, like many people I guess, that it was based on a Mondrian. It turns out to be by the little-known British female artist Marlow Moss, from the same school as the Dutch artist and, indeed, a friend of his. It was a deliberate ruse. “When you realise it’s actually a female from the same time period, then it’s concurrent with the thinking about the marginalisation of women, especially at that time.”
Other works on show include masters by Picasso, Magritte and Kandinsky. The spaces that Andrew McIntosh paints are not just architectural; the interiors serve also to reflect the subconscious mind. To him, the very buildings themselves suggest harsh judgments like those meted out on certain artists of the 1940s. The pairing of artwork and torture can also be seen as a reflection of the creative process in general.
In a way, the series of works were something of a catharsis. “I wanted to see if by painting these paintings I could feel how the artists were feeling when they were painting in a massive world war, to see if it affected their artwork. It did, I think, a lot of the time.”
I Saw This Coming is showing at Bo.Lee Gallery, 222 Rye Lane, London SE15 4NL Wed-Sat until 6 April 2019
All images are ©Andrew McIntosh and courtesy of the gallery.