A major new exhibition of 17 contemporary artists is currently running at the Saatchi Gallery, London. Known Unknowns is a showcase of international artists, born between 1966 and 1990 and currently featured within the Saatchi Gallery’s collection.
The premise behind this exhibition is admirable: an opportunity as a largely unknown artist to exhibit in one of the most striking and renowned gallery spaces currently in London. However, whilst the group is largely unknown, their artworks, creative practices and artistic aspirations are greatly admired by their artistic peers. In this way this exhibition should be applauded as breaking new ground within an often ‘safe’ London art scene.
The catalogue states that there is a particular focus on the craft of ‘art-making’. This is a universal phrase that gets used too often and means absolutely nothing as surely every artist that decides to create is an ‘art-maker’. What is apparent though in this vibrant exhibition is the myriad of themes that are explored throughout all the works. This representation of contemporary society and visual expression of the individual artist and their worlds is a real gem to explore.
Two artists that embody this ‘moment in time’ and who are a true representation of the diversity of contemporary artists in this globalised and increasingly digital age are Maria Farrar and Rannva Kunoy. Both have a simplicity within their work that is initially deceptive. Look further and there is a nostalgia and challenge that clearly represents the fine balance we all have in navigating today’s world and societal challenges.
Maria Farrar was born in the Philippines and lives and works in London. Her paintings are deeply connected to her personal narrative that emerges from experiences from having lived in Japan before moving to England. Throughout her work there are subtle references to the cultures and traditions she was exposed to growing up: calligraphy, manga and the flatness of the Japanese pictorial plane contrast with the gravitas of twentieth century Western modernism. Her works seem to be created through a series of deliberate errors.
There are smudges, stains and occasional redactions that make the subject realistic and accessible. Not being perfect creates an empathy that unites the viewer to the subject or scenery portrayed. It is no wonder that Maria’s work is deeply influenced by cultural identity and her position and acceptance as a female painter:
"Cultural identity, past and present, and being a woman painter in this post-colonial world. Beginning with materials - paper and ink from Japan and linen and oil paint from the West - the paintings combine polar opposite aesthetics - shadowy beauty of economy with abundance and straight forward gorgeousness of colour in Western expressionism. They are firmly grounded in the tradition of painting, as a result of the study of still life, landscape and portraiture. They revisit these themes from an eastern angle by using the mind-set of the calligrapher. Every stroke counts and in the duration that the painting is made, 100% presence in the act of painting - being aware of the immediate effect of a colour or line on the onlooker's sensation. In a calligraphic mode of painting, emotion is translated into the physical more effectively, similar to when a calligraphic symbol is loaded with subjectivity - the thoughts and desires of the present moment."
This is Maria’s first exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery and the first time that her work has been seen in the flesh by so many people. In reflection of the ethos within her works she feels that it is a ‘nice feeling’ that her paintings are part of the London cultural scene.
Rannva Kunoy was born in the Faroe Islands and now lives and works in London. She uses a specialist crystal paint in her work, the sort that is usually applied to luxury cars. This along with a strong use of colour generates an energy across the works surfaces which is both enticing and intriguing. These marks are difficult to categorise, as the image constantly fluctuates to reveal new compositions in changing light. By working this way and encouraging shifts in visual language, Kunoy explores the experience and psychology of perception:
"The paintings are specific, operating within their own field, they blur what there is in the world of painting and what there is not. The surfaces are broad with lines and contours created by transferrals in reversals, bringing to mind shapes and objects from the real world. Intermingling with the marks is the inside edge of the frame, the presentation of the frame turning into a representation of the frame, which also implies the 3rd dimension. The marks themselves are difficult to categorise as both the surface and image continuously fluctuate. There is no texture and no actual gesture, it is painting without painting, the works incorporate the haunted and unstable, yet deliberate and intangible. The strong photographic aura of the work acts as an invitation to take a look at and experience the psychology of perception.
The titles of the paintings are iconoclastic in nature, questioning settled beliefs and institutions. The works present a sophisticated painting codex, one that understands how painting can claim the viewer, perplexing and intoxicating in equal measure. These works were a culmination of years of experimentation in the studio. They were first shown as part of a large solo presentation at the museum Centre Pasqu Art, in Biel, Switzerland, the works shown at Known Unknowns were from this presentation. To see them in this setting in London, so beautifully installed whilst activating the light in the work further, is pretty thrilling."
You leave the Known Unknowns exhibition without an obvious finale. But this in itself is refreshing, instead of parking these artists in a ready-made ‘box’ you celebrate their vibrancy and freedom to create without pressures to conform. It’s admirable of the Saatchi Gallery that they have allowed this exhibition to just ‘be’, it is truly a representative snapshot of the breadth and diversity of contemporary art practices in today’s digital age.
Maria Farrar graduated with an MFA from the Slade School of Art in 2016. In 2017 she gained a residency at the British School in Rome, as well as receiving the Melville Nettleship Prize at Slade School of Art. She has an exhibition opening end May 2018 at Mother's Tankstation Gallery in London.
Rannva Kunoy graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2001 after completing her study of painting at City and Guilds of London Art School, London in 1999. She currently has a solo show at Lundgren Gallery, Palma Mallorca.