Soft, Rachel de Joode’s show at Annka Kultys Gallery, has been reviewed by Sean Worrall in Organ Thing.

ORGAN THING: Rachel de Joode at Annka Kultys Gallery – an exciting exhibition that really does demand you look properly, that you question what you see, an exhibition that says the Annka Kultys Gallery has done it again…

By Sean Worrall

Rachel de Joode – Soft at Annka Kultys Gallery, East London, October/November 2020 – – an exhibition that really does demand you look properly, that you question what you see, an exciting art exhibition that says Annka Kultys has done it again…

Soft is an exhibition of new paintings by Berlin-based Dutch artist Rachel de Joode, it opened late last week on the Hackney Road at the Annka Kultys Gallery, it really is almost a relief to climb those stairs to the gallery, the space is right on my studio doorstep but we’ve not been to a show there since early March, it is all still a little confusing and no real opening night and a case of sending er.mails and making phone calls trying to make an appointment (and when you don’t get a reply to either, hanging around outside the front door for a bit, not a moan, tough running a gallery and dealing with us all right now, I’ve opted in terms of Cultivate until things become a little more clear), going to a gallery is a little too much like hard work these days. And when you do get in there you are (rightly) wearing your slightly uncomfortable mask in a rather empty gallery, one or two others at most, I am missing the crowds at an opening, the conversations with strangers brought on by the art, the conversation with friends, with fellow artists you haven’t seen since the last opening a couple of day before, “what else is on tonight?”, “Where you going next?”, “have you seen the show at The Approach, that’s worth going to”, it is almost a relief to climb those stairs to the Annka Kultys Gallery, it is the first time since March, it feels good. it doesn’t feel quite right, nothing does.

On show are five of the artist’s large scale abstract paintings from her 2020 Sloppy Therapy series.  We’re told Soft is de Joode’s first solo show in London. she describes the central focus of her practice as the space between the physical and the virtual worlds, exploring the relationship between the three dimensional object and its two dimensional representation (which kind of makes this the perfect gallery with the perfect track records for her London debut).  There is a soft play here, an excitement, a need to question, to really look both at the imagery, the abstract nature of the imagery, and the actual process – is that a shark? is that collage? is that paint?  “Her work encapsulates a constant play between surface, meaning and materiality, disrupting the entanglement between these different plateaus in order to regain simplicity”. It sounds silly to say it but you kind of need to really look just to see. I like it, I like the process, I like the imagery, I like the confusion, I like the shark, I like the conclusions, the results, I almost don’t want to know about the process, the medium, the arrival…

“De Joode’s focus upon the play between the physical and the virtual is evident in the process she uses to create her Sloppy Therapy works.  Beginning with a canvas, often a found canvas, de Joode deliberately tries to forget everything she knows about the canvas per se and instead seeks to explore the canvas as a simple object to be appreciated for its materiality.  This lends her practice a phenomenological dimension – simultaneously grounded in physical directness and philosophical distance.  As de Joode herself notes “I’m interested in seeing the world from a completely detached perspective.”  The canvas is manipulated in a heavily tactile manner: paint is dripped or poured, the canvas itself may be cut, resin, glue or plastic is moulded by hand, glossy layers of pigment are built up – a manner reminiscent of the pioneering techniques of the American abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler, who used thin paints and unprimed absorbent canvas to fuse colour and cloth, suggesting space through variations in the density of paint and overlaps of form.  Both share a naivety that seeks to activate the canvas with a view to enhancing and delighting in its three-dimensional materiality (and in de Joode’s case, perhaps with a nod to the series’ title, Sloppy Therapy, she reveals her enthusiasm for so working with canvas)”.

She does arrive at a point where you are not entirely sure what you are looking at, I like that, I like the broken down nature of it all, a process that somehow is far far from being broken down, most of all what we see hanging on the formal white walls in such a formal way is exciting, it pulls you in, demands to take a step closer, enquire a little more.

“De Joode’s experimentations with her canvases are documented photographically as the next step in creating her works, to such a degree that the artist now has built up an archive of over 10,000 images of her experimentations.  Indeed the physical manipulation of the canvas by the artist’s hands is a dynamic captured regularly in the documentation stage.   Fingers and vestiges of hands appear regularly in the finished works – see for example the fragments of the artist’s hand that can be discerned in Sloppy Therapy 18 and 19 (both 2020, pigment ink on archival paper, mounted on aluminium dibond, 152 cm x 123 cm), where we see hands as ambiguous forms seemingly indifferent to their own shape and existence, as well as the sculptural reference of a plaster of Paris finger that appears in Sloppy Therapy 14 (2020, pigment ink on archival paper, mounted on aluminium dibond, 152 cm x 123 cm)”.

And yes, this rather fractured “review” is mostly taking the press release and cutting and pasting to arrive at some kind of final stage, this is mostly about information, about informing, about the telling so you might go see, I certainly need to go back again now I’ve had time to think about it, toy go back and connect again with her disconnect – 

“The final stage in de Joode’s process is to draw from the artist’s archive of images and compose (or arguably recompose) the work digitally using the aid of computer software.  In this phase the artist is intuitively drawn to certain images, particularly those with shadows, marks or reflections that become evident only when ‘zoomed’ in or zoomed out on, using her selections as traces to create a palette from which she can digitally ‘paint’ her compositions.  And due to the close-up, cropped and abstracted nature of the revised images that compose the finished works in Soft, the works appear deceptively textured such that the viewer is drawn to their apparent materiality in a tactile way, notwithstanding their super-flat nature being printed onto aluminium.  De Joode describes the emotional impact of this disconnect thus: “I want to have these emotions when I make the work.  These weird, very primordial emotions you can experience just from matter. It’s hard to put that into words because it’s more like a feeling that you get through looking.”

It is beautifully tactile, it is so so tempting to reach our and touch the pieces, to want to confirm what your eyes are telling you…

Fellow Dutch artist and abstract painter, Willem de Kooning, famously defined painting as being a dialogue between painter, materials and marks; a definition that fits naturally around de Joode’s practice, driven as it is by intense interaction with the materials of painting and mark-making through her image selection and manipulation.  So while the artist herself eschews direct comparisons with her compatriot, noting only that they “use the same materials but present differently,” the tensions created across the plane of de Joode’s realised works resonate with those of her predecessor, being both lyrical and dramatic.

“The title of the exhibition, Soft, echoes de Joode’s focus on play between the material and digital in art and the liminality across the two.  Soft may be read as a direct allusion to aspects of de Joode’s artistic process, such as the materials she uses to produce her initial three-dimensional explorations – the natural pliability and malleability of the canvases, paints, resins, foams and clays she creates with – as well as to the software she employs to document and archive her explorations and introduce them into the two-dimensional realm of the digital.  But it also refers to the softness that fascinates the artist as she selects which archived images will contribute to the final works: a predilection for shadow and its umbra of natural ambiguity, the practice of zooming in and out on images that enhances softness when resolution deteriorates, and the subtle aggregation of selected images into the final holistic work.  Yet ‘soft’ nowadays has connotations beyond interpretations of the material and the digital.  For some the term evokes a feeling.  The most popular definition of ‘soft’ on a leading online dictionary provides “What is Soft as a feeling? It’s like love, but the kind of love that makes you simply… soft.  You want to stay up with your someone, you want to simply cherish them.  You feel bubbly and happy and safe.  You feel Soft.”  De Joode’s soft painting is art that creates emotion.  Art that creates feeling”.

This is an exciting show, these are exciting pieces, demanding pieces, beautiful exciting pieces of art, art alive with questions, art that asks questions, a little more than just another damn artist painting just another still life of another bloody pomegranate, Love it, the Annka Kultys gallery does it again…  (sw)

Rachel de Joode is at Annka Kultys Gallery until 21st November 2020. the gallery is at 472 Hackney Road, Unit 3, 1st Floor, London E2 9EQ. Right now it is best to check the website and make an appointment/ You find the gallery via the red door by the bus stop, a minute or so from Cambridge Heath railway station.

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