The 2020 edition of Dialogues, curated by Alistair Hicks, focused on the constant battle between text and images. The artists
presented in the section gave us strong verbal paintings, that we could attempt to read as well as feel.

Talk! Talk! Talk!

Get in!’ A crowd of figures jump up and down and command you to come into Division of Labour’s stand in this year’s Dialogues section of the Fair. Rosie’s McGinn’s installations demand your attention. While the paintings and drawings by Christopher Hanlon (Domobaal), Mircea Teleagă, Joe Packer and Katie Pratt (Aleph Contemporary), Paola Ciarska (IMT Gallery), Henry Hussey (Anima Mundi), Emma Fineman (Versus Art Project) and John Robinson (Division of Labour), are a little subtler but they are all talking to you: wheedling, nagging, whispering, seducing, or just plain asking for your attention. Pictures are like people. They come alive in their relationships. Treat paintings like people and some of them will come alive for you.


Division of Labour, London Art Fair 2020


Jason Noushin, Batman, 2017. Courtesy of Janet Rady Fine Art


Unless you understand Farsi, you might not be totally aware to whom you are talking to in the painting of Jason Noushin (Janet Rady Fine Art). It declares his name in English, but he is an Iranian Batman and when translated from Farsi, you will understand: ‘Pow! Bam! Wham!’. Painting today does not rely on pure visual impact. In modern communication there is invariably a battle between text and image. Indeed, it has gone further: we even feel with images and words, churning around inside our emotional washing machines. It is a dialogue of our times. We receive most of our information through screens. We are so bombarded with images and words that we have become very sceptical of their truth. Benedict Drew presented by IMT Gallery goes further and says: Everyone Got Bored And Turned Off The Internet, 2019.

The artists showing in Dialogues this year address our contradictions. They have abandoned old thinking, the single line of so-called progress, and help us embrace the disparate elements in a full life. Paola Ciarska (IMT GALLERY) is a modern-day Escher: her interiors don’t always make sense to our outgrown sense of logic that sadly lingers, prevails and causes havoc. Her interiors hover intriguingly between virtual and other everyday realities. She has reacted against the functional, male-chauvinist modernism of Adolf Loos to echo the contemporary spaces that we can inhabit today. Naked women wandering freely around, and occasionally take selfies. They live in a ‘cosy’ environment adorned with Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa,’ camgirls and pictures of Bart Simpson and his family.

Christopher Hanlon in Domobaal’s presentation has come out of the old school of British painting that tried to discourage any form of narration in painting. He was trained at Brighton and then the Royal College. His works do, however, quietly rebel. He makes paintings that might appear abstract from afar but as one approaches one discovers they are paintings of old paper. He paints mundane objects like stones and aspidistras. His conversation with his audience echoes the one we have with Existential writers. His philosophy comes out in the act of painting, the act of living.

IMT Gallery, London Art Fair 2020

Katie Pratt, 2018. Courtesy of Aleph Contemporary

The three painters from the brand-new gallery, Aleph Contemporary, equally move on from the ancient divide between abstraction and figuration. Katie Pratt’s abstraction is nomadic. She has taken Klee’s advice but she’s not content to just take his line for a walk: his colour and meaning have also gone walk-about. Abstraction and figuration blur in Untitled 03, 2017 by the Anglo-Romanian painter Mircea Teleagă. The figurative elements in the painting (a shoreline or a puddle, an apparent tree, a pipe) only make sense to those who wish to contemplate and let their minds wander in the world where there is only an outline of roof, no actual ceiling to the process of thinking. Joe Packer’s painting is the strong silent type, but the artist gives you enough to keep your eye interested and encourage your feelings to lurk in the undergrowth.

We cannot see the world just through words: we cannot read the world just through images. This does not mean artists will not try to achieve this, as they always have. The pictures of Ivan Villalobos presented by Perve Galeria are as full as those of Bosch or the twentieth century Surrealists. One can either let the sheer abundance of imagery wash over you or try to explain it. Then your words supply the balance. This year’s Dialogues artists work in many media. Not all of them paint or draw, but when they do they give us strong verbal paintings, paintings that we can attempt to read as well as feel. The dialogue between painting and other media is bringing it alive.

The loudest voice in the Dialogue section stitches words on tapestry placards. Henry Hussey, presented by Anima Mundi, lives up to his name. Hussites would be proud of his strong prophetic words: ‘All humans have a black hole inside ourselves, which must be filled to nullify the pain. We have tried, and largely failed to fill it with consumerism and capitalism…’. Some may say that dialogue is dead in his work: that the time for words is over, but they keep spilling out.

Curators and critics have been killing off painting for years, but it keeps on coming back. It talks to us. It is a right old nag and it keeps on talking. But painting does not exist in
a vacuum. There are still some brilliant purist advocates of painting, but for most of us today do not rely on just one media, one form of communication. My conclusion
comes from Mars. Versus Art Project from Istanbul brings Ege Kanar’s extraordinary photographs taken by Nasa’s rover on Mars. Kanar asserts ‘that photographic images cannot be interpreted without a consideration of the motives and circumstances that surround and inform them.’ This robot imperiously tramped around clumsily in space taking pictures. This puts a different perspective on all our relationships. Versus Art Project contrast these silent witness photographs with the paintings of Emma Fineman. Talk! Talk! Talk! A painting has one advantage over a human being: when it converses, it does not emit hot air.

Henry Hussey, 2019. Courtesy of IMT Gallery

Dialogues is situated within Art Projects, on Gallery level 1.