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The Blind Pig: The Social Side Of Art

7 March 2013 Morgan Meaker

This weekend, Brockley based artist Jo Dennis welcomes you to her pop up bar and exhibition in the wholesome setting of her garden shed.

This Friday, artist Jo Dennis flings opens her garden gate to the general public. Lured by £2 drinks and the alluring scent of the bonfire, visitors will hop down the mosaic garden path to the hut that stands at the bottom of Dennis’ Brockley garden.

Here, it is the potting shed that gives birth to The Blind Pig. With wooden walls, doused in white paint and adorned with the artist’s most recent work, the space echoes the cosy revelry of the prohibition era.

Inspired by Tony Hornecker’s The Pale Blue Door, (the notorious pop up restaurant and cabaret club) The Blind Pig reflects the more social side of art. Harking back to the traditional model of exhibition openings, drenched in free flowing drink, Dennis reiterates that painting itself is a method of communication.

For her, the communicative aspect is crucial. In her singsong Midlands accent, she articulates a desire to come one step closer to her audience; leaping out from behind the veil of the canvas and engaging with the onlooker not only through her work, but also face-to-face. “Almost like a performance”, she adds.

Yet for her, craftsmanship is integral to the artistic process. “I’m not a theorist” she proclaims. Merging performance and the more traditional forms of painting and drawing, The Blind Pig occupies a space that leans more towards community engagement, with the path to art lubricated by alcohol.

The work on display revolves neatly around a theme of tangled interconnectivity and the human condition. Dennis recalls a piece from a 2005 exhibition at the Guardian offices that stuck firmly in her mind. The show, Imaging Famine, featured a photograph of a family sat upright on a wooden bench; emaciated, bones jutting, limbs spindling.

Whilst acknowledging her “very white, middle class life”, Dennis simultaneously expresses a touching empathy for other people, worlds apart. Drawing unifying strands between the most remote corners of humankind, her stream of consciousness manifests itself in her paintings.

Billowing abstract shapes of smudged, kaleidoscopic colour dominate the show. From this chaos, sinister faces emerge from the blurring, merging fringes; howling mouths gasp for breath as rows of grimacing teeth protrude from the shadows.

On closer inspection, these grotesque, fluid explosions mostly stem from a central point or figure. Dennis refers to this focus as an “evil kind-of man”. To her, these works signify what it means to be human. “There’s so much I’m trying to say about thoughts and emotion” she declares.

She goes on to link her abstraction to, what she describes as the “white noise” that fills our heads. Overpowering at times, this “noise” eludes to everything that flits across her internal space; disjointed thoughts and musings; famine; the recession; what it is to be a painter and an ever-present self awareness.

In her work, the sliding cascades of paint are punctuated by more illustrative elements and the use of text. However, what remains consistent is the feeling that we exist in the shadow of our minds and that what we comprehend forms such a tiny part of the spiralling, convoluted cloud of colour that hovers above us. Confused? I think that might be the point.

What’s endearing about Dennis as an artist is that she doesn’t have the usual spiel of “what my work means” fully prepared. “I’m still working it out” she says, her honesty refreshing. This, in turn, allows you to form your own opinions without the common prompts.

The show also features work drawn from a series of self-portraits, previously hung at The ICA. Stark in their silence and simplicity, especially in comparison to the work that precedes them, their canvases seem empty. Faces are boiled down to the bare minimum; noses are excluded as if they were excess baggage. In Dennis’ world, the absence and presence of noise are equally alarmingly.

A presenter on CBBC’s Deadly Art and one half of the team behind Peckham’s Asylum, Dennis is no stranger to playing the role of entertainer. With her warm and jaunty personality, the vibe for the evening will be wholesome and welcoming. The works promise to be sensitively self-referential, strung together by accessible insight.

After Friday, The Blind Pig will continue over the weekend, repeating itself once more, later in the month.

Open 6pm – 10pm on Friday 8th March, 2pm – 7pm Saturday 9th March and Sunday 10th March, 2pm – 7pm 23rd March. All Paintings are for sale. Prices from £80 to £1000. Address: 200 Drakefell Road, Brockley, London.

 

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