Ann Craven

Southard Reid
7 Royalty Mews
April 26–June 24

Ann Craven, Kitty, I Love You Do You Love Me, Yes, No?, 2002, 2002, oil on linen, 12 x 10".

Beware, if you’re not a big fan of cute animals: Ann Craven’s current exhibition is chock-full of them, nearly twenty years’ worth. Pandas, birds, cats, and deer, among other critters, are rendered with soft, clean, and precise strokes. The creatures appear regal, as if properly sitting for their portraits, calm and even aware of the viewer’s presence—to a rather unsettling degree. Craven’s gaze is like that of a proud owner or perhaps mother. The canvases, rich with buoyant pinks, greens, and blues, exude a kind of loving care. Their tenderly delineated backgrounds are full of trees, grass, and flowers.

Craven paints from an extensive photographic archive (she is an avid collector of animal pictures in all states of pretty), though the canvases only quietly allude to this. Paintings such as Deer in Emerald Field #4, 2008, 2008, and Rainy Day, 1999, 1999, retain some of the frigidness of an art-directed photo. But Craven disables all that—her subtle, painterly gestures supply movement and life to otherwise static subjects. One of the odder works in this show is a small painting from 2002 of a white, furry kitten with turquoise eyes and a pointy tail, framed with flowers and a text that reads, “I love you. Do you love me?” Craven created, well ahead of her time, what today could be understood as a meme. Without the need to go viral, the artist’s paintings of animals are, past and present, infused with the internet. And we all know how much the World Wide Web loves a kitty cat.

Eliel Jones

Maeve Brennan

Chisenhale Gallery
64 Chisenhale Road
March 31–June 4

Maeve Brennan, The Drift, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 50 minutes 29 seconds.

The Drift, 2017, is Maeve Brennan’s major film commission and first institutional solo exhibition. Brennan’s practice—exemplified by previous work such as Jerusalem Pink, 2015, which considered the relationship between the role of stone in Palestine and her great-grandfather’s occupation there as an architect during the British Mandate—merges serious investigative documentary practices with a sensitive and poetic relationship to using moving image as a means to create subjective and/or staged moments: footage meets fiction.

Brennan has been based between Beirut and London since 2013. The Drift explores the shifting economies of objects and materials in tandem with the sociopolitical developments of contemporary Lebanon. Multiple characters appear throughout the film: a self-taught archaeologist; the gatekeepers of the Roman temples in Niha; and a joyriding mechanic from Britel—a town in the Beqaa Valley close to the Syrian border, known for trade in used cars and historical artifacts. These objects sit at the center of the film, and the narrative arc provided by the people is important. The power of restoration is a resonant theme within The Drift, which moves effortlessly between gentle long takes of clay artifacts being slowly glued back together and frenetic moments of cars being swallowed up by clouds of dust while “drifting,” as the film’s title references—a kind of balletic, controlled speeding technique. This oscillation between intimacy and urgency is key to the beauty of Brennan’s film. It is quietly political, carefully sidestepping the singularity of mainstream media representation and creating an alternative set of images.

Philomena Epps

Zhang Enli

firstsite
Lewis Gardens, High Street
April 1–June 4

Zhang Enli, Black and Red Lines, 2016, oil on canvas, 98 x 79".

Zhang Enli’s art stands in opposition to the cynical realism and political Pop of his contemporaries and predecessors. His works are more of a celebration than a critique of daily life. For some time, the Shanghai-based artist has been emptying out the more recognizable content of his canvases. In the beginning, depictions of people gave way to large still lifes; now, representational bits of the world get transformed into vast painterly abstractions.

For instance, at the center of Tension 1, 2013—the earliest of the ten paintings currently on view—a tangle of emerald ropes wraps around what appears to be a pair of dark, thick wires. The rendering of these humble materials within a large space—the piece is more than seven feet wide—allows the artist to paint with a great physicality in long, loopy gestures. More lyrical and syrupy brushwork appears in Black and Red Lines, 2016, a lush abstraction rife with murky, watery forms. A grid underpins the imagery of each painting, underlining the work’s formal architecture while subtly transforming the paintings’ surfaces into fragile, translucent veneers.

Trees are also a popular subject with Zhang. Over a ten-day period in the exhibition space, he created a mural dense with them (Space Painting, 2017) that stretches along a curving, tilted wall within the gallery, producing a kind of forest backdrop for the rest of his works. Zhang cleverly nods to English academic pastoral painting with this effort, of course—but what comes through is not a fidelity to detail or verisimilitude but rather the sumptuousness of Zhang’s painting itself.

Sherman Sam