ANCIENT GAMES

March 2016

TOM ANHOLT

ANCIENT GAMES

ProjectB is pleased to announce Ancient Games, Tom Anholt’s first solo exhibition in Italy.

Curated by Jane Neal, the exhibition explores the sophisticated language of the artist through twelve works of different dimensions: from small oil on board to larger scale oil on linen. Anholt has a very particular way of painting that involves creating physical layers, each of which is threaded with meaning. The resulting archaeology weaves together history, art history and Anholt's personal family narrative, to create rich, colourful and often poetic paintings. Anholt deliberately situates himself in the inbetween. He takes a narrative path but allows for the medium of paint to exert itself in his practice, responding to its viscosity and plasticity. Though predominately figurative, Anholt's paintings also have a strong dialogue with abstraction and operate at the boundaries of conscious direction and unconscious, visceral reaction. 

Stepping into Anholt's world is to enter a shadowland, between sleeping and waking, where time seems to stretch out like an endless carpet and the dreams experienced here can often seem as real - or more so - than our own lives. We might reach for the literary term Magical Realism as the world Anholt depicts is often heightened, fantastical even, but it is convincing in its consistency and familiarity. From even the first viewing of his paintings we have the feeling that the figures and scenarios he portrays are already known to us; perhaps just a little too far away on the horizon for us to identify them precisely, but certainly not alien. 

Stylistically we can place Anholt within a canon that draws from sources as diverse as early cave painting, Primitive art, Islamic art, Persian miniatures and Medieval art - particularly the cross-over from the Romanesque period to Gothic, and - much later - Symbolism and Expressionism. For this exhibition of new paintings at Project B Gallery, Anholt continues to look at the crossover between Islamic and Medieval Art that has preoccupied him this past year. Anholt's researches have led him to turn to hand illuminated 'Books of Hours' for inspiration. He is particularly interested in the overall narrative, and in raising the question of the place of religion in relation to painting today: something that has become increasingly unfashionable in the West. It is not that Anholt is looking to be read as arcane, or even as anachronistic, rather he is sensitive to the spirit of contemplation that gave birth to religious art works, and drawn by the considerable commitment of the artist. Concurrently, Anholt also notes that he is part of this 'post-modern, post Internet' generation of artists who can be simultaneously inspired by almost anything - be it early Medieval, ancient Indian or Contemporary painting; thanks to the huge data base of imagery available on the Internet and directly accessible through the artist's studio laptop. 

Anholt is as interested in the physical as he is in the virtual or metaphysical, and he cites a trip to Sicily in 2013 as a major turning point for his work's evolution. As Sicily is such a small island, its history and influences are particularly pronounced; with evidence of former empires still literally scattered on the streets. Anholt was excited to discover a cathedral which was built on the ruins of a Roman temple. After becoming a church, it was a mosque, then later a Baroque cathedral which was again modified in the 19th Century. Anholt was fascinated by its reincarnations and by the cannibalisation of the past for the present. He was also moved to think that for 2000 years this place had been a holy ground: special but constantly re-modelled and re-worked. It prompted Anholt to   think that this layering of time and the archaeology of a specific site, is akin to what the painter of today experiences when he begins to make a work: 'you're carrying a back-pack of 2000 years of history'. 

In terms of his own family history, Anholt was drawn to explore his distinctly different lineages: Irish on his mother's side and Persian Jewish on his father's. He began to reflect on the histories and journeys that his ancestors might have undertaken, the migrations of these people, through choice and at times enforced, and the stories that would have been forged in the process. This notion of narration and process takes on a literal reading when we consider that Anholt's paintings are themselves determined by their own personal journeys. The story of their evolution is visible in the final image. They are not merely static, isolated objects, they carry their own history with them. Sometimes Anholt paints flat down, on a table or the floor, and at other times he starts a painting on the wall, sands it down, and even cuts out parts, and then re attaches, creating a new, composite whole. He says: 'The more paintings are pushed and the more they go through, the better the result. You have these marks at the end that can't be faked: they can only be achieved in a genuine battle - a struggle - the beauty is in the scars, the mistakes. Seeing the hands of the maker is important: the ones that didn't work were the ones that were too polished, too clean; the beauty is in the scratched and pitted surface'. An archaeology of spirit, as well as matter.

-Jane Neal-