Aaron Angell, Behive Scheif, Wig, Ingot, 2016, painted glass, 27 1/2 × 39 1/2".

Aaron Angell, Behive Scheif, Wig, Ingot, 2016, painted glass, 27 1/2 × 39 1/2".

Aaron Angell

Aaron Angell, Behive Scheif, Wig, Ingot, 2016, painted glass, 27 1/2 × 39 1/2".

Aaron Angell makes strange pictures. Strange because of their indeterminate age (they might be a hundred years old) and cultural background (they might be the work of an Asian or Arab artist, or else pieces of European folk art; in fact, the artist was born in Kent, UK, in 1987 and lives in London). Even odder is the technique with which they were executed. Their surfaces look like terrazzo floors in Italian villas, cold and a bit forbidding and yet—perhaps there is no contradiction here—quite elegant. As it happens, they were painted, or, more properly speaking, spray-painted, on the obverse sides of glass panels. Glittering structures float like clouds before backgrounds that are typically a deep black. Some of them depict recognizable objects: a ladder, a candle, a cup, an egg.

This show’s title, “Variations on the Chaldon Doom,” points to Angell’s source of inspiration for the eight works on view: a wall painting in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Chaldon, Surrey, UK. A depiction of the Day of Judgment that was created around 1200 CE, it is an extraordinary specimen of medieval art; no other work of the period is anything like it. As a child, Angell spent hours looking at this picture. Not only do his own paintings feature motifs from it, but, more importantly, the structure of his series is modeled on that of the fresco, which is divided in two by a horizontal band, with hell below, paradise above, and a ladder at the center on which the elect ascend to salvation.

Here, Angell’s pictures were on display in two rooms. The downstairs gallery was given over to the predominantly dark depictions of hell, including Chaldon Doom (Loaf) (all works 2016), which reprises the horizontal dividing line in the form of a cloud pierced by a central ladder. Loaf refers to the sliced loaf of bread hovering behind the cloud—perhaps evoking the Eucharist. Upstairs, serenely colorful pictures offered intimations of paradise. Rigorously simplified motifs are set out across the surfaces of the pictures without regard for the rules of perspective. This gives the works a medieval look, an air of rustic simplicity—folk art, after all, often operates with medieval templates. And that is exactly what Angell is interested in: themes and images that have been handed down over the centuries while their original authors have faded into obscurity. They have become artifacts that, as Angell put it in an interview, “nobody made,” like folk songs. His enthusiasm for motifs of this sort is also behind his choice of techniques such as reverse-glass painting and ceramics, which are central to his oeuvre. In light of the sharp condemnation of vernacular craftsmanship as well as the motifs of folk art by many twentieth-century avant-gardes, Angell’s interest in traditional crafts—which he shares with colleagues such as Andrea Büttner—reads as a reevaluation of the modernist tradition and its elitist aspirations: It is, in effect, a call for the democratization and deindividualization of art.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.