Monday, 23 January 2012

ArtSlant Review: Avner Ben-Gal at Sadie Coles

(Originally published on ArtSlant)

It’s a cruel world, according to Avner Ben-Gal. In his paintings and drawings the Israeli-born artist unveils an uncanny world of shaken-up dream logic in which human forms are melded with Swiss Army knives, faceless women appear in graphic anatomical detail, and figures both human and fantasy appear in confrontation with each other. It’s the bad dream that haunts our waking hours, the sinister side of life that we try to brush away.

Over two rooms, this exhibition at Sadie Coles takes in a selection of Ben-Gal’s drawings in blue pencil, graphite and black marker pen as well as a small selection of paintings. It’s fair to say that crudeness, in both the execution of the works and their unflinching themes and depiction of the human body, runs through all of the works. 

Avner Ben-Gal, The Last Cough, 2011.
In a blue pencil drawing, the network of veins are meticulously drawn out across a woman’s breasts while her face is blurred into anonymity. When he takes up a black marker pen, it’s more with a sense of urgency than accuracy, and within the swipes and dots of ink there’s a rhythm of movement and energy. They are cartoonish in their lack of detail and inky opacity; bold, rude and quickly formulated like graffiti. 

Unlike the stark monochome of his drawings, Ben-Gal’s paintings are a murkier affair with roughhewn figures and forms lurking within a subdued palette. Similarly unnerving, these paintings offer a narrative of darkness, violence and ambiguity set in a world pervaded by an ashy grey with smeary unreadable forms.

Ben-Gal’s works are confrontational and can be confounding, so this is not an exhibition to raise the spirits. These images don’t exist to comfort or offer solutions; they’re everything we try to block out when we look for beauty in art.

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