Vane, Commercial Union House, 29 Pilgrim Street, Newcastle upon Tyne
Continues until July 1
Wednesday to Saturday, 12noon to 5pm
I get very excited about painting exhibitions, particularly solo shows of new work. There is a thrill in seeing what an artist you admire has been up to since their last show, and an eagerness to see how they’ve built on what went before. It was with great enthusiasm then, that I bounded up the stairs to see Narbi Price’s new exhibition at Vane.
Price is well established in the North East art scene, having completed his Masters in Fine Art at Newcastle University in 2010 and a BA at Northumbria in 2002. His painterly canvases have been a local favourite for years, with his work appearing all over Newcastle, as well as in Berlin, Milan, Basel, New York and London to name a few.
His work explores locations that have witnessed a specific event, whether historical, famous, personal or forgotten. He engages in deep research of a chosen spot, photographing the site to develop a bank of images, which are then worked up into the final painting in the studio. Through this process, any representational image of a place is disrupted, and the subtle language of abstraction takes over.
From a distance a painting’s photographic origins are obvious. Step a bit closer however, and the surface of each canvas devolves into layers of carefully applied paint. In one painting, vivid green brushstrokes are fresh grass from afar, but up close their colour intensifies and flattens, like an over-exposed image on a computer screen. In another, a dense white glaze evokes intense sunlight on an urban street, until the buttery drips falling from the bottom of the canvas pull you back to reality, reminding you that you’re in a gallery, looking at a painting.
Titles give an indirect reference to what the viewer is looking at, although they are only a hint. ‘Untitled Monkey Painting’, for instance, shows the site where, allegedly, during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century, a shipwrecked monkey was hanged by the people of Hartlepool, believing it to be a French spy.
The accompanying essay draws your attention to the ‘tangible absence of human presence’ in the paintings, which points to ‘an unknown, underlying story’. There are, in other words, ‘known unknowns’ which will materialise differently depending on the viewer. These are paintings to develop a relationship with, and an exhibition that rewards repeat visits. ‘This must be the place’ is less a statement by the artist, and more an uncertain comment made by the audience deciphering each picture.
Narbi Price was born in Hartlepool in 1979, and lives in Gateshead. He was a prize winner in the John Moores Painting Prize at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, in 2012, and has recently had his work featured in ‘Vitamin P3: New Perspectives in Painting’ published by Phaidon. The full essay by Matthew Hearn which accompanies this exhibition can be read online here.