Louis Barnard speaks with London-based artist Renee Rilexie at her solo exhibition, Euphoria – no relation to the tv series of the same name – at 54 The Gallery in Mayfair. The show comprises eleven pieces of acrylic on canvas and is defined by the patterns that run throughout the collection as whole and individually through each piece.
Anyone who knows Renee or is familiar with her work will be aware of the fact that she has a rare ability, known as Synaethesia, which allows her to picture colours, patterns and shapes when listening to the different notes, frequencies and tones of sound. Each piece in Euphoria was inspired by a different piece of music that Renee would translate onto the canvas. The significance of sound in the artist’s process was such that it simply could not be omitted from the exhibition, and a particularly charming aspect of the exhibition was the inclusion of QR codes that allow the viewer to conjure up these audio references that were so fundamental to the development of the work.
The presence of these codes – with their regimented boxy shapes and technological connotations – did remind of the ubiquity of the digital and somewhat detract from the overall soulful, rhythmic and organic feel of the show. However, the ability to experience the paintings in the same manner and context that they were created was a delightful touch. Should this collection be shown again in the near future, the provision of a pair of headphones and a setlist at the door would make Euphoria a lovely family-friendly event to engage multiple senses and offer a more holistic and entirely accessible artistic experience. As it is, if you do get the opportunity, I encourage you to bring your own headphones and smart-device to listen to the music as it really does elevate the experience of the whole show.
As mentioned, the pieces themselves are defined by the patterns that Renee sees in the music and to which she dedicates herself in recreating for her audience. The first piece seen upon entering 54 The Gallery is Restore me to Great Health, which was completed in a series of layers as the artist listened to the meditative sounds that inspired the painting over and over again.
The busily dotted pattern of paint droplets competing for space on the canvas seems to represent the constant feedback of sound and colour that is surely echoing through the artist’s mind as she is inspired and creates simultaneously, seeing the sounds play across the canvas and allowing the colours to sing to one another. Each new layer of paint partially blends with the previous emphasising this feeling of creative and sensorial stimulation that is so foundational to the artist’s practice. Given the title of the piece, and the meditative state Renee accesses in the processes of making, it seems appropriate that the many tiny droplets of paint appear to resemble the microscopic cells which we rely on to reproduce and multiply in order that we might heal.
This same dotted pattern can also be found on the canvas of two other pieces in the exhibition, Finding Your Sound – a large landscape inspired by a sixty-piece orchestra – and Soul Rising – which the artist describes as a tribute to reggae music. The former is the more impressive of the two, not purely in scale (as it is a larger piece) but the artist captures the chaotic harmony of sixty instruments working together to produce something beautiful, all the while fighting to make themselves heard. The magnitude of the painting is justified by the drama and grandeur of the operatic piece that inspired it.
For Primavera the artist was drawn to employ a swirling pattern that evokes movement and does it’s best to represent the rhythm of song in two dimensions. The dancing oranges and reds imply a higher tone and upbeat rhythm that defines the peaks and climaxes of the track by Ludovico Einaudi.
This pattern, Renee’s best impression of a sound wave cresting before it crashes, again recurs throughout many of the artist’s paintings with the peaked waves appearing on Heartbeat and Spirit Dance. Consistent with much of the work shown in Euphoria, both these pieces use a lot of colour with the latter characterised by the vibrant blue that separates the yellows, greens and whites and keeps these other hues moving to its rhythm.
Heartbeat, by contrast, uses a mix of heavy reds and some lighter shades to apply a drummer’s beat to the painting, remaining true to the almost primal feeling that bassy rhythms instill in us. It is an uncharacteristically dark and brooding piece that stands out amongst the bright and cheerful colour palette of the majority of the paintings, providing the show with some much-needed grit – whilst still relying on the splashes of white and those mellower colours sequestered away between swathes of red to alleviate some of the darkness of the piece.
The swirling theme that is best achieved in Primavera is repeated in the multicoloured Earth’s Rhythms – which pits red against blue with yellow playing the mediator – and Inner Verse 1, which doubles up on the rotations with smaller waves circling in around a larger vortex. The leader of the three-part Inner Verse series does so strongly, with lots of layered texture that is unique in the collection coupled with some typically vivid colour combinations, in this case the mellower blues and greens dominate the centre of the piece, forcing the deeper reds to the fringes.
Inner Verses 2 and 3 drop the swirling pattern and focus on a slightly simpler rotation that begins in the centre of the canvas and spins outwards as the music develops. Inner Verse 2 is defined by hot reds highlighted by cream and yellow transporting the viewer to the eye of a fiery vortex. Inner Verse 3 takes us on a bit more of a journey from the tranquility of its watery turquoise centre outward to the same heat that we see in the second of the Inner Verse series.
The same rotational pattern is also adopted in Changing Earth, which the artist submitted for the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition, on the theme of climate, depicting the losing battle our environment fights as it is shunted aside by the destructive and transformative forces that have come to dominate our planet.
An abundance of colour and a dedication to manifesting, on canvas, the vibrant patterns of sound means Euphoria requires its audience to arrive pepped and energetic, ready to take on each painting with a fresh eye and fresher batch of enthusiasm. The viewer must examine each inch, each swirl, each brush stroke and each drop of paint if they wish to really appreciate the often-overlooked relationship of sounds and colour that Renee Rilexie shines a light on in this show.