This winter Ben Brown Fine Arts presents Trees and Archives, an exhibition unveiling fifteen new, large-scale works by British artist Tony Bevan. Bevan’s distinctive graphic style and continued exploration of figurative and abstract representation have made him one of the UK’s leading contemporary painters. This exhibition showcases the artist’s investigations into his two most recent themes, trees and archives, together with a selection of his new self-portraits, accessing inchoate spaces and the innermost recesses of the mind.
Bevan’s oeuvre is founded on the unpredictable quality of charcoal and the richness of his own pure acrylic pigments. By forcing charcoal into the pores of unstretched canvases on the floor of his Deptford studio, he creates splinters and shards that are locked in with the acrylic medium. Occasionally marking his canvases with a hand, foot, or item of clothing, Bevan’s energetic physical involvement with his paintings is recorded in their texture.
Bevan’s tree paintings, archives and self-portraits are motivated by the desire to explore hidden topographies.
Whilst travelling in China between 2007 and 2008, the artist came across an ancient tree in the courtyard of a temple in the district of Dujiangyan, Sichuan Province, and felt compelled to examine its internal forms. His responses to this tree reflect an appreciation of both its architectural potential and near-human element: dark strokes create a striking interplay between positive and negative space in this body of forms, whilst the wood’s gnarled surface suggests scabbed human skin. The tree’s ancestral associations are particularly striking in Tree 11, 2013, where flecks of orange and blue, recalling the primal palette of cave paintings, are juxtaposed with skeletal forms and limb-like branches.
In his self-portraits Bevan makes vigorous maps of the psyche, drawing thick charcoal lines over matrixes of veins and tendons. Inspired by the contorted physiognomic sculptures of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, these works peel back the social face to reveal a more complex psychological state: in Self-Portrait, 2014, a head and neck are lacerated with black to create a disturbed facial landscape.
The Archives, Bevan's latest series, see the artist taking on infinite space. Inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Babel”, a story depicting the universe as a library, these labyrinthine repositories of books allude to the vast spaces of the imagination. Archive, 2014, depicts a grid of bookshelves expanding to the edges of the canvas and beyond, invoking the surreal atmosphere of Borges’ text. By resembling the characters of an unknown language in their repetition and striking graphic depiction, Bevan’s books form a portentous meditation on contained knowledge.