Sexton Ming and Daniel Roth at Undercurrents Gallery

Filed in Reviews by on October 25, 2014

Sexton Ming and Daniel Roth

Undercurrents Gallery

3 October to 26 November 2014


After a week of working at Frieze Masters, where works sat in spotless white and grey booths, and where the tent itself sat in a picturesque corner of Regent’s Park, it was pretty refreshing, albeit surreal, to walk into the back of a pub in Deptford to have a look at this exhibition. The room was light, but the oppressiveness of a traditional British pub loomed large, with the deep red sticky carpet, dark wooden furniture and, in the gallery space, a variety of window panes, some frosted, some clear and some cracked.

A collection of Sexton Ming’s collages hung on one wall. They were crude and colourful, unsubtle and varied in their refinement. David Cameron’s face was stuck on the image of an excessively rotund Georgian gentleman, with a comic speech bubble reading, ‘I’ve got plenty of grub in me gut. You ain’t gunna get none.’ The caption reads simply, ‘Fat Bastard Dave’. There are overt political swipes on display in these works, not least in the continued pillorying of Cameron, but in the commentary of social issues. The direct insults are offset with more delicate musings about social situations, one poem scrawled in red over images of an old house and an old man, compare the flowers being overcome by weeds to the situation the old man faces. He is being cast aside, having to make way for a new development that is to be built on the site of his home.

Ming’s collages range between vulgar and sensitive, each one perhaps representing a conversation that you can imagine taking place in this environment as the beer spills over. We see a collage about fracking, cartoons drawn about the ever-pervasive CCTV and comments on Guardian journalism. The most striking for me is a collage that sits in a broken frame. It is of a bare-chested man with a bloodied back, an ominous skull stuck onto his outstretched arm. The background is the repeated pattern of workers in their office block. For me, it suggests that we can easily choose not to acknowledge these world affairs. One click online and we have moved onto something new. It perhaps points to a wilful ignorance that we employ, that maybe Ming is suggesting we hide behind the system and become inactive. Poignantly, the image sits behind shards of broken glass.

These modern day epiphanies and grievances that Ming has illustrated sit next to Daniel Roth’s more traditional oil paintings of London characters and scenery. Amongst others, a flame haired woman sits at a drum kit, looking up, fag in mouth and hands in motion as one stick heads towards the snare, the other to the crash. Another woman is caught looking defiantly forward into the early morning light. Her backdrop is a rundown brick building, scrawled with graffiti and grey blue shadows. Roth beautifully captures the colours of different times of the day, from the bright yellow winter light that reflects off the brick building to the dark blue night skies pierced with lamplight that blanket the street scenes of the edges of London.

Where Ming’s works are perhaps more aesthetically jarring, Roth’s paintings employ considered mark making and beautiful abstraction to depict light and movement, to catch moments capturing character quirks. The exhibition sits in the back room of a pub, where the white walls are smudgy and the space sits opposite the toilets. On the opening night, there was a performance. Even without the performance, the empty stage and the walls that are plastered with posters of past events scream of an unspent energy. It is something more vibrant than I think a refined gallery space could ever offer, and I think an environment that is well suited to both artists. The pub, which is home to these characters, and offers up the scenery that Roth paints, is also the battleground for personal and political grievances, such as those illustrated by Ming, to be aired. No, it wasn’t work showing in a pristine space, but it was work that was raw and that, for me, was all that mattered.

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Ann-Marie Rayney

About the Author ()

Ann-Marie Rayney is a printmaker based in London. Recently graduated from Goldsmiths with a Fine Art and Art History degree, she will most likely be found exploring London's cultural offerings or covered in ink at Sonsoles Print Studio in Peckham. To see some of her work, have a sneaky peak at her website here.

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