Daphne Todd, Mall Galleries, London
The fruits of an African tour with Charles and Camilla
Zoe Pilger is an art critic for The Independent and winner of the 2011 Frieze International Writers Prize. Her first novel, Eat My Heart Out, will be published by Serpent's Tail in February 2014. She is also researching a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, on the subject of romantic love and sadomasochism in the work of contemporary female artists. She has appeared on BBC's The Review Show and Sky News
Wednesday 19 December 2012
Daphne Todd OBE was originally approached to paint Prince Charles’s portrait, but “royal hands were flung up in horror” when she revealed how long he would have to sit for.
Instead, she was invited to accompany Charles and Camilla on an official tour of South Africa and Tanzania in 2011. The results of that ten-day excursion are displayed here: small, quick oil paintings of jacarandas, palm trees, Kilimanjaro, cloudy skies, and busy people trying to survive.
There is no indication that these paintings have got anything whatsoever to do with the monarchy, except in their aura of tweeness. English artist Todd, 65, acknowledges the Prince’s “gentle and civilised form of patronage”.
But she also gives some hint of the kind of satire-worthy bizarreness that ensues when an artist attempts to paint poverty in short bursts between royal engagements (there are apparently seven a day) in blisteringly hot weather before the royal tour bus packs up and moves on for more waving.
Todd came to prominence in 2010 for painting a portrait of her 100-year-old mother’s corpse at the undertakers shortly after her death. That “devotional” study won the BP Portrait award, for which she had already been a runner-up in 1984. She has drawn and painted such illustrious sitters as sir Tom Stoppard, Spike Milligan, and a range of Lords.
Across the Tracks is a painting of Soweto. It shows train tracks running below houses that appear to float together, ambushed on all sides by grey mist. Despite the “view from below” implied by the title, the artist has positioned her easel somewhere above; she is looking down on this sentimentalised but not particularly offensive scene.
It is an odd choice to juxtapose these royal works with Spanish landscape paintings that were first exhibited at the RA in the 1970s.
The latter make this exhibition worth seeing. They show arid pale yellow terrains and vacant blue skies interrupted by the ugly stuff of industry: pipes snaking through the desert, telephone poles, unsightly cranes. Bare Hill and Valcara: Abandoned Dock are beautiful. The inclusion of still-lifes doesn’t work. Two small paintings of tangerines and apples bear the strange metaphysical title Trying to Pin Things Down – a yba-esque tactic of adding depth where there is little. still, Todd undercuts the oldschool colonial flavour of this mission with a (very well concealed) kind of wryness. To 23 December (020 7930 6844)
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