Review: Tony Bevan goes large with painting installation at De La Warr Pavilion

Exhibition: Tony Bevan, New painting installation, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, until June 13 2010

Monumental painting can be a serious business. It brings to mind thickly laid on paint with an often spiritual dimension laid on just as thick. Tony Bevan’s installation at De La Warr Pavilion, on the other hand, is of the order of a cosmic joke.

His centrepiece may depict a religious figurehead. But Back of Buddha’s Head crops its subject so tight, we focus on his tonsured baldness. And just who are we to be looking down on the supreme enlightened one anyhow?

In fact, Bevan has drawn inspiration from a visit to China, where vast statue the Great Buddha of Leshan is often approached by a hilltop hike. That explains the detail in his almost-as-vast graphic painting, with its row upon row of orange curls.

Self Portrait After Messerschmidt is equally bold and equally light in tone. Bevan paints himself an unflattering, low viewpoint. The skin on his neck is strained, his nostrils are cavernous and his ears jut into space.

Once again the work is part-based on statuary. Franz Xaver Messerschmidt was an 18th century sculptor with a radical line in extreme, and comic, facial expressions.

The third work, Head Horizon, is as sketchy and dynamic as a high-calibre piece of comic book art. The foreshortened face is an intense mask of concentration. Black vectors criss-cross the unidentified cranium.

Charcoal is used, along with paint, leaving abrasive streaks behind as a visceral reminder of the physicality of mark-making. Long brushstrokes and flecks of acrylic give an impression of speed. But a gloss to the finish puts the whole arrangement in stasis.

Similar media are used throughout the installation. The artist’s self portrait is deep red while his Buddha glistens with bright orange. Most of these spacious canvases are left unpainted.

The paintings are minimal yet complete. Just as they manage to be poppy, painterly, expressionistic, and jaunty, all at the same time. That is such a tough juggling act, it is a wonder Bevan can keep that sense of humour.

Written for Culture24.

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