Gregory Smart: Eye Blood You, The Empire Gallery, London
From the circus to the studio
Wednesday 01 April 2009
Many adolescents fantasise about escaping parental constraints and running away to the circus. That was never an option for Gregory Smart who was born into a famous circus family.
His upbringing was somewhat schizophrenic. Sent off to Bryanston public school, he returned to spend his holidays looking after baby elephants and chimpanzees at the Royal Windsor Safari Park, which had been built by his great grandfather Ronnie Smart.
He performed even after receiving his BA from Farnham, and toured with the family's New World Circus both as a clown and junior ring master. Then in 2002 he was awarded a scholarship to study for an MA at the Prince's Drawing School in Shoreditch, where he now works and lives. This is his debut show.
Drawing is the basis of his practice whether he is making etchings, which form a large part of this show, or paintings. Although much of his imagery appears to be abstract, his visceral serpentine shapes make oblique reference to the body. These labyrinthine coils not only suggest lymphatic systems or rivers of blood but Celtic knots and the metalwork structures of cloisonné enamel or stained glass.
His sinuous lines belie the controlled process involved in making the etching plates, and their intuitive muscularity is offset by the underlining grid, an image drawn from the sparking overhead cables that electrify fairground dodgems.
Other fairground imagery, including arcade games and machines, also informs his work, though Smart's translation is not literal but suggested in enmeshed lines or the rows of smudged blue circles. All incidental marks are retained so his prints have the raw touch of images drawn by hand, which gives them an immediacy in this age of digital printing.
His watercolours are disquieting. The paint is edgy and the mood uncomfortable. His colours bleed and dissolve, implying ambiguous sexual conflict. The female figures sitting on the laps of their male partners look like blow-up dolls or even dead bodies, and echo something of the erotomania of Hans Bellmer. The tone, though less explicit, is not dissimilar to that found in Marlene Dumas's subversive paintings.
There are a number of larger oils. Blue is a favoured colour. He says it reminds him of the circus. In Self as Success the style is loose and expressionistic. A blue figure lies in a louche bacchanalian pose eating grapes.
Also on show are a number of polished etching plates and the impregnated rags used to wipe the coloured ink from those plates, which have been poked into barbed wire in a colourful display that evokes the carnivalesque.
Smart is a young artist who is still finding his aesthetic voice but with his idiosyncratic imagery, his strong sense of colour and his exotic circus background he might be one to watch.
To 6 April (020-8980 0395)
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food