We were thrilled to catch up with our old friends at UNIT London gallery last Thursday at the private view of their new exhibition. The artists on display, Rex Southwick and Joshua Hagler, couldn’t have been less stylistically similar – from a superficial perspective at least. At their cores, however, the two artists share an innate ability to visually express stark, riven contrasts in such a way that doesn’t detract from their works’ overall holistic balance. Both oil painters maintain in their work a delicate equilibrium between chaos and order.
In Hagler’s case, this can be easily seen in the subject matter of his latest works. Chimera – exported directly and almost literally from Classical mythology – features pieces that probe our comprehension of what order is and should be. There is, perhaps, a nod (consciously or otherwise) to Picasso here as Hagler establishes a new sense of normal by deliberately deconstructing and re-envisioning responses to relatable scenes. Notable works by established artists like Emil Nolde and Max Beckmann are re-imagined with certain details more pronounced; scenes from both big and small screens are approached from a fresh perspective as we are forced to accept a new, often jarring relationship with a once-familiar theme.
As Hagler himself puts it, the Chimera of his works alludes to the “ordered synthesis of discordant parts”. And, just as Hagler’s works have the capacity to create an holistic harmony between the unexpected, disassociated elements within a scene, so it is with Southwick’s slice of peyote-infused Americana. Taking the subject matter of a colour-saturated Neon Dali-driven dreamscape sets the scene for a Fear and Loathing-style jaunt through California and the West coast. It is intriguing in Southwick’s imagery, in that case, that no such narratives appear. Instead we are treated to the very ordinary view of blue collar – possibly migrant – workers labouring away on fabulous pools and villas that they could never possibly hope to afford.
Next to each ultra-modern superpad sits a bland, colourless and tumbledown bungalow – a relic from another world infringing on the majesty of the new American dream. Discordant indeed: the contrast here is as stark as walking between the sparkling virtual world of online PartyCasino and witnessing the depressing reality of zombified slot junkies in a bare bones Vegas motel lobby. Southwick alludes to this disparity between expectation and reality in the title of this body of work: Querencia – the metaphysical desired space notably described by Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon.
The Unit London team – led admirably by founders Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt – have excelled over the years in their ability to uncover woefully overlooked yet outrageously gifted young artists. More than that however, they have a natural gift for curating exhibition spaces that combine youthful swagger and penache with elements that embody enduring maturity and sophistication. In Southwick and Hagler, one feels, they have two artists that represent both of those often contradictory values simultaneously.
Querencia by Rex Southwick is on display until 3rd August
Chimera by Joshua Hagler is on display until 31st August
Via FAULT Magazine
Find out more at the Unit London