Adrian Ghenie: The Darwin Room and deliciously luscious paint

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I took a trip to the Royal Academy today and ventured inside their Pace Gallery; What a wonderful surprise to find the work of one of my favourite living artists on show there: Adrian Ghenie.

I first encountered the painter in Vitamin P2, a huge tome that showcases modern painters across the globe who are carrying the medium of paint forward.

I’m familiar with Ghenie’s darker,  more obviously figurative works in which human bodies stand or hang isolated in decaying industrial environments.  I’m drawn to his use of light and exceptional draughtsmanship but the biggest pull for me is how Ghenie fully utilises and highlights the materiality of paint itself.

I really felt that the works currently on show at Pace exemplify his love of the medium.

Blobs, smudges and swirls greet the viewer in a storm of colour and for me there’s a real sense of an artist who is passionate about paint.

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Ghenie’s subject is both figurative and abstract,  with many of the works featuring a bearded man emerging from a maelstrom of marks,  joined by elusive, distorted objects to create a narrative.

I later learned the bearded figure is a reference to Darwin,  and that much of Ghenie’s work in this series allude to the publication of The Origin of the Species (London, John Murray,  1859) and the subsequent misappropriation of its ideas by leaders such as Hitler and Stalin. Ghenie’s paintings explore how this rich history can be represented in the textural quality of paint, with caricatures of Darwin appearing as a recurring theme.

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In a separate room at the back of the gallery, linked by a near pitch-black corridor,  is an installation named “The Darwin Room”, which consists of 19th century furniture and construction materials arranged to form an antique, life-sized study room. The whole composition is intended as a sort of three-dimensional painting. I found the space incredibly dark and foreboding,  as though something sinister had happened (or was about to happen!) Was this the scene of a grand scheme or a place to hide from something? The austere space with it’s illuminated corner was one of intrigue.

I left the RA thoroughly inspired today and would recommend everyone (especially fellow painters) to visit this exhibition. I’m already a lover of paint and need no persuasion to take up the brush and create, but Ghenie’s luscious,  generous brushmarks make me feel like I can do so much more with this centuries-old material.

Adrian Ghenie “Golems”
Pace London at the Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington Gardens until July 25th.

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