Saatchi Gallery: contemporary and ground-breaking art at its finest. Currently, the London-based art gallery is showing Iconoclasts: Art Out of the Mainstream. Chelsea Davies, Creative Writing student at Bath Spa University, had the chance to go to the private view of the exhibition and kindly gives us a review of what to expect from one of London’s most cutting-edge galleries.

Iconoclast. Noun. A person who attacks or criticises cherished beliefs or institutions. The Saatchi Gallery’s Iconoclasts: Art Out of the Mainstream exhibition takes a visionary perspective on the term, exploiting its definition to correspond with the defiance of traditional artistic methods. It explores the “experimental and often transformational practices” of thirteen “ground-breaking” artists. Ground-breaking – and therefore, defying – by their use of unorthodox and occasionally uncomfortable image-making practices.

Already infamous for its 1997 Sensation exhibition, which was described as “distasteful”, “shockingly good”, “inflammatory” and “pornographic”, Iconoclasts comes exactly twenty years later. Former advertising mogul Charles Saatchi’s gallery is renowned for its patronage of flourishing contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin – ushering in “a new age of artistic defiance.”

The artwork that first seized my attention as I entered the exhibition was Corvid; a writhing, fluid construction of around 10,000 crow feathers created by Kate MccGwire. Instantly my eyes were drawn to the inky mass, thinking at first it was a human form laid sideways, then a silken knot, possibly a creature emerging from unknown depths. I spoke to MccGwire about her artistic process and use of found materials, “I gather, collate, re-use, layer, peel, burn, reveal, locate and question,” she told me. Using wishbones, feathers and maggots, MccGwire produces art with a haunting and visceral beauty. Her chosen media and fascination with organic substances allow her to shape abstract structures into “a Möbius strip of both form and meaning.”

MccGwire, Kate - Corvid, 2011
Corvid, 2011 © Kate MccGwire, 2017. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of MccGwire’s work is that it’s impossible to grant it form. Something of her art reminds me of Skellig; the winged creature of David Almond’s creation. Not a monster, man, nor beast; simply something otherworldly with “a discomfort and wildness about it.” MccGwire herself likes to think of her work as “a three-dimensional notion or manifestation of a state of mind.” Her “hybrid creatures” can be perceived differently in each viewing, “probing the beauty inherent in duality.”

As for the importance of crow feathers in Corvid, the material itself has an identity. The concept of crows “being a bearer of bad news or an ill omen” allowed MccGwire to create a structure that had “another added dimension.” Its slick, oil-like hues contrasted dangerously against the light and it was disconcerting to feel both unnerved and drawn in by such an abnormal and animalistic figure. MccGwire transforms an entity attached to ominous connotations into a captivating and unnerving figure that is defiant in its fragility.

Continuing on, I was intrigued by the art of San Francisco born artist Josh Faught who used dyed, woven and crocheted textiles in addition to found objects to create his art. Faught’s pieces are interwoven with references to pop culture, political movements, cultural identity and a sense of time. Found objects are hidden throughout his pieces: button badges, postcards, books, photographs and posters that carry a deeper message beneath their superficial nature. What at first is assumed as only strips of fabrics become “constructions of identity,” modern tapestries that address “the relationship between language and community.”

2017-09-21124376 1 copy
Installation View, Josh Faught © Stephen White, 2017. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London.
Anzeri, Maurizio- Giovanni, 2009 copy
Giovanni, 2009 © Maurizio Anzeri, 2017. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London.

Maurizio Anzeri, an Italian artist known for his photo-sculptures, uses an intriguing artistic method for creating his artworks. The use of needlework onto photographic portraits imbues his static subjects with life and energy. The beautiful intricacy of embroidery onto photographic portraits “blur the boundaries between abstraction and portraiture,” and establish his work as “photo-sculptures.” Certainly, his chosen media lays a foundation for “landscapes on which to map out his own unique geography of suggestion.”

His Iconoclasts pieces, particularly Giovanni, prompts questions of the self we show to the public and the self that we hold within. The embroidered threads burst from the body, suggesting a heaving turmoil that can no longer be contained by his frozen subjects. Anzeri creates new from the old and discarded; a rebel against the grips of time. He himself states that embroidery “is an alchemic process of obscuring and revealing, erasing and enhancing.”

Mailaender, Thomas, Illustrated People #6, 2013 copy
Illustrated People #6, 2014© Thomas Mailaender, 2017. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London.
Lewis, Dale - Eurovision, 2015 copy
Eurovision, 2015 © Dale Lewis, 2017. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London.

Saatchi’s Iconoclasts exhibition echoes Saatchi’s appetite for art that shocks and rejects the mainstream. From negatives seared onto human flesh by Thomas Mailaender, collected feather sculptures by MccGwire, to violently painted urban scenes and constructions of burlap sacks and clay by Douglas White; experiencing Iconoclasts was as refreshing as it was daring. For an unforgettable experience, see all thirteen artists at the Saatchi Gallery until 7 January 2018.

The artists featured in the exhibition: Kate MccGwire, Maurizio Anzeri, Josh Faught, Daniel Crews-Chubb, Dale Lewis, Thomas Mailaender, Makiko Kudo, Danny Fox, Matthew Chambers, Aaron Fowler, Renee So, Douglas White and Alexi Williams-Wynn. Iconoclasts: Art Out of the Mainstream will be exhibited from 27 September-7 January 2018.

Words by Chelsea Davies

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