chiaroscuro, contemporary art, contemporary painting, installation art

Ben Ashton, 01:23 Monday, 13:30 Sunday, 13:04 Sunday, 23:39 Wednesday, 20:00 Thursday, 15:37 Sunday, 13:35 Sunday, 04:23 Saturday and 17:45 Tuesday (2011)

May 31, 2011

Although there may be no candles in these painted scenes, there is arguably candlelight. There is certainly romance and the echoes of a nocturnal interior by, say, Georges de la Tour.

And in this light the vulnerable nudes, of which there are three, also call to mind Rembrandt. It may be worked out they are Ben Ashton’s wife. Other panels show them together and him at work.

But whereas a gilt frame might invite you in to an intimate scene by a baroque master, Ashton has crafted three-dimensional wood panels which throw these domestic scenes into relief.

Six of the paintings are on trapezoid blocks which look like inversions of sacred icons. Three are on roundels or plaques which look designed for the exterior of a building, not a gallery wall.

These intimate scenes have not been casually thrust upon us. The rightmost panel shows the artist hard at work sawing and planing the rest of the piece. But he looks unaware of the end result.

The leftmost panel shows his wife (we can work out the relation between them) bent over a screen. It is one of the nudes, lit by the glow of a laptop rather than a secretive 17th century candle.

It is tempting to say that here it is the internet which has turned the modern home inside out. But painters have long revealed their interior life and the life of their interiors.

In the flanking panels of this installation, Ashton appears to set the old and new technologies in opposition. Perhaps that is why in a self portrait in panel eight he looks so full of doubt.

But since each element of this wall is titled with a day of the week and a time from the 24hr clock, it suggests he too embraces digital technology. Just as in panel three he embraces his wife.

As this all suggests, the piece has a creeping sense of drama. Two of the most engaging panels show the pair denuding themselves with, respectively face cream and shaving foam.

In other words, it is a soap opera. Where painters once used candlelight to heighten the pictorial drama, in a digital age they can (must?) use irony and art historical references.

Ben Ashton’s work can be seen in group show Shifting Boundaries at Phoenix, Brighton, until 12 June 2011. See gallery website for more details. And read an interview with the artist on london art.

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