Charlie Billingham, Port Tack (2013)


A market in ancient Greece is distinguishable from the art market, but by less than you might think. In both you find the free circulation of ideas along with goods and services.

Like any auction house, the agora was a place of assembly. It had a political role as much as a commercial one and the etym contains the verbs for both “shop” and “speak in public”.

But the marketplace in late capitalism is nothing if not competitive. Perhaps that is why Charlie Billingham has staged a boat race in his bright and cheerful solo show at Ceri Hand.

The boat in shot is one of three. It is in the lead. And if the title is to be heeded, it is taking a left turn. Thus while you shop, Billingham can’t help speaking in public.

And the Greek connection is surely relevant. The sea where this boat sails is a limpid tapestry of a watercolour, made by Billingham during a stay in the Greek Islands.

It was machine stitched in Belgium. Trust a more Northern country to bring in a mercantile context. These are the waters which surround us in the current global economy.

This might be a good time to note the title of the show, Tender. Gentle, yes, but also with a sense of currency. Art can be tender in both senses.

Yet there is something jolly and bracing about this tacking and jibing, etc. The installations take their shape and dimensions from Laser Pico sailing dinghies. Ie; vessels of pleasure.

This motif suggests the optimism of a upcoming artist who enjoys his vocation, also a race of sorts. It results in a vibrant, sunny show in a grey month.

So is it fair to read a political intention into this riot of colour and marine sports? Given the situation in Greece these days, it is hard to get away from that bias.

Fans of austerity, keep heading right. Those who would rather stimulate the arts with funding, or even patronage of any kind, get on board.

Charlie Billingham: Tender is at Ceri Hand, London, until Jaunary 18 2013. Read a profile of the artist here; he has moved on quite a bit from his work in the Saatchi Gallery.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *