Critics’ Picks

Mark Fairnington, The Worm in the Bud, 2017, oil on canvas, 51 x 35".


Mark Fairnington

Handel Street Projects
14 Florence Street Ground Floor
February 11 - April 1

The acrid colors, immense scale, and alarming titles of Mark Fairnington’s four flower paintings here overflow with menace, making their hallucinatory rendering all the more disturbing. The Thing of Darkness and Sexual Anarchy, both 2016, are a little more than six feet—blooms you’d not want to encounter in a dim alley. The latter’s lurid vermilion vase holds purple calla lilies, suggestively painted to resemble intersex genitalia. In The Explosive Child, 2016, the shadows of pallid yellow and white roses are painted acid blue, while those cast by blindingly pink peonies in The Worm in the Bud, 2017, are the color of congealed blood. Flowers like these commemorate deathbed visits, doomed love affairs.

Fairnington ramps up the sickly atmosphere of his installation by painting the gallery walls of this Victorian house in Islington a melancholic deep green. This sense of morbidity reverberates when you realize the gallery is less than a mile away from a similar building where Joe Orton, the wildly irreverent ’60s playwright, was bludgeoned to death fifty years ago by his lover Kenneth Halliwell, who then overdosed himself on Nembutal.

The paintings’ associations are deepened by a Mary Horlock short story commissioned by Fairnington, also on display. Horlock’s female narrator wistfully remembers a life punctuated by gifts of the kinds of flowers in this exhibition. Yet her narrative turns out to be a monologue of dementia, and flowers mark a history of disappointments, failures, and desperate isolation. The artist’s uncanny realism intensifies the warning note of these disturbing paintings. Whatever the ferocity or quality of your passions, images drained of life, like Fairnington’s, will be all that look back at you in the end.