ShanghaiChristopher Le Brun: Diptychs
Lisson Gallery Shanghai is proud to be staging a solo show of new work by Christopher Le Brun, his first in mainland China. This also coincides with the opening of the two major Shanghai art fairs – West Bund and Art 021.
Focusing on Le Brun’s recent diptychs, the display will also, fittingly, be presented in two halves, with a partial re-hang of the exhibition occurring around the middle of its three-month run.
Le Brun’s newly completed pairs of paintings respond to the act of seeing, as much as to his own actions as a painter. The twinned canvases – often separated by a tonal break, with one light and one dark canvas – mimic the processes of perception, thought and memory in the beholder. First, Le Brun’s binocular compositions interrogate the instantaneous coalescing of imagery that occurs as the brain merges views from two separate eyes. Unlike the experiences of theatre, music or literature, “Painting,” writes Le Brun, “is seen in an instant – suddenly.” However, by introducing a second, complementary element, these paintings can unfold over time, fluctuating between individual works, related family members, and the singular whole.
Le Brun continues: “These diptychs admit a truth of painting by seeming to withdraw the authorial voice which might be expected to impose unity.” By permitting the viewer a continuance of the moment of seeing and not just a second glance, the artist questions his own role as synthesizer or end user. The stark contrasts in a work such as Late Play (2019), for example, would suggest two entirely distinct registers – on the left a brooding dark shower of marks, on the right a radiant blur of hot red and orange. Yet the disparate sides attract one another inexorably, not just in the manner of magnetic opposing forces, but also in the subtle reflections of the red hues and vertical striations that are clearly ‘in play’.
These dualities – between depth and surface, between strong and subdued colours, between shades of darkness and light – create a back and forth or push and pull that extends to the rest of the exhibition and connects each diptych to one another, much like the Mind or a Bridge, to use two more of Le Brun’s titles (from 2018 and 2019 respectively). Further representations of Le Brun’s doubling techniques can be seen in A Word to the Page (2019) that features passages recalling both abstract gestural painting and automatic writing, perhaps mapping the artist’s left and right sides of the brain or the difference between his two hands, both of which he can use when painting – the right being his ‘doing’ hand and the left, the dominant one, being employed for ‘fine work’.
The final word goes to Le Brun himself, who describes a further harmonious pairing between the creation and the appreciation of these works: “You simultaneously concentrate and relax; you have a notion of the field, and are aware of the perimeter but ignore it, at the same time you consider the detail.”
Christopher Le Brun has been a celebrated British painter, printmaker and sculptor since the early 1980s; he has also been an instrumental public figure in his role since 2011 as President of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, from which he recently announced his departure in December 2019. His practice over the past five years has focused on a series of abstractions, some light in touch and some involving dense accretions of colour and gesture. His glowing and scintillating surfaces, containing passages both luminous and numinous, are what he describes as ‘primary’ responses to the act of painting, rather than commentaries on life or homages to previous artists. There are, however, notable references to music and literature, as well as influences from his drawing and printmaking practices throughout this new work, which represents a singularly rich moment in his 40-year career as an artist.
Born in Portsmouth in 1951, Christopher Le Brun trained at the Slade and Chelsea Schools of Art, London. In his early career, he was a double prizewinner at the John Moores exhibitions (1978, 1980), also showing in the Venice Biennale (1980) and the groundbreaking exhibition ‘Zeitgeist’ (1982) at the Martin-Gropius Bau, Berlin. His recent solo exhibitions have been held at the Southampton Art Gallery, Southampton, UK (2018); Wolfson College, Cambridge, UK (2018); Albertz Benda, New York, NY, USA (2017); The Gallery at Windsor, Vero Beach, FL, USA (2017); Colnaghi, London, UK (2015); Friedman Benda, New York, NY, USA (2014); New Art Centre, Wiltshire, UK (2010) and The New Art Gallery, Walsall, UK (2008). Le Brun served as a trustee of Tate from 1990–1995; The National Gallery from 1996–2003; the Dulwich Picture Gallery from 2000–2005; and as a founding trustee of the Royal Drawing School from 2003–2016. He is currently a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. He was elected the first Professor of Drawing of the Royal Academy, London in 2000, where since 2011 he has been the President, the 26th since Sir Joshua Reynolds and the youngest since Lord Leighton in 1878. His work is in many major museum collections including Tate Gallery, London, UK; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA; the British Museum, London, UK; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA; Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Scotland; The Whitworth, Manchester, UK and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, USA. Le Brun’s public sculptures include Union (horse with two discs) at the Museum of London; City Wing on the site of the former stock exchange at Threadneedle Street; and The Monument to Victor Hugo on the quayside in St Helier, Jersey.
Installation view of ‘Christopher Le Brun: Diptychs’ at Lisson Gallery, Shanghai, 6 November 2019 – 29 February 2020 © Christopher Le Brun, Courtesy Lisson Gallery.
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