Great works: Backstage (2010-11) by Ryan Mosley

Alison Jacques Gallery, London

Good artists are often in a state of combat-readiness. They compete with each other for the world's attention, and they are in contention with much that has gone before. Poets, those scribes of an ancient craft who happen to possess a strong tendency to respect the traditional, fear the unsurpassable, unbeatable Shakespeare above all things else. With painters, it is the near present which is more inclined to breathe down their necks – provided, that is, that we are all prepared to agree that the present begins with the hallowed nativity of Pablo Picasso...

Yes, the ceaselessly inventive presence of Pablo Picasso mocks their imaginative shortcomings, and deftly points out new routes through the labyrinth. Ryan Mosley is one of the most inventive of the younger English painters at work today, and you can feel the ghostly presence of Picasso here, ceaselessly at work on one of his harlequinades perhaps, in Backstage.

Mosley is a fantasist, a maker of wild, irrational, dancing imagery, who seems to have learnt lessons from every modern movement. The idea of the artist as harlequin, clown among the clowns, has been with us for centuries, of course – think back to Watteau, Tiepolo and that grotesque face-puller Franz Xaver Messerschmidt.

This painting is about clowning too – look at that lovely patchwork glow of colour that adorns the torso and head of the birdman at its near centre – but it also manages to engage, often quite glancingly, with a whole pot pourri of preoccupations: the suspension of the idea of subject matter at all seems to be present in these hanging figures, which look like stock characters or prototypes of the human comedy, swinging in the void like a gaggle of wind chimes. Its delicate layering, flattened surface upon flattened surface, seems to suggest the art of collage, how imagery is hustled together and pressed into service from every conceivable source, printed, filmic or otherwise.

There is story-telling at work here too, but it is of a peculiarly arrested kind because many modern artists do not really know whether painting, as it is commonly practised these days, really allows them to tell stories or not. Isn't that what those drearily moralising Victorians used to do? And so what we have here is a hint of story. It is also a painting about the self-conscious art of the making of a painting. There is no question of seeing through it to a commonly recognisable world of illusion. Every brush stroke is a bold act of pictorial balancing.

In part, it looks like the props for a painting which is about to be staged on the canvas. Its making is a theatrical show. Those shadows are the performers themselves. We can never know what they will be doing on that stage because they exist in a kind of reversed shadow life. All we know is that they are playing to an audience in front of them, and that we are perhaps behind them. In fact, we may have staged the whole thing. Which means that we have been assigned the precarious role of the enabling artist. Such comedic japes as those.

About the artist: Ryan Mosley

Ryan Mosley was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, in 1980, studied drawing and painting at Huddersfield University, and then did an MA in painting at the Royal College of Art in London, where he currently lives and works. His passion for art was fed by his father, whose favourite occupation was redesigning the covers of his favourite long-playing records. Mosley's commitment to his subject is near insatiable. Even his one-year-old son is called Art.

Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
Arts and Entertainment
Crowd control: institutions like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are packed

Art
Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices