British-Caribbean Barbershop Paintings at the Studio Museum

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The Studio Museum in Harlem is hosting an exhibit of paintings by London-based artist Hurvin Anderson. Anderson, who was born in 1965 in Birmingham, UK, to parents of Jamaican descent, explores in his paintings “his own relationship to the Caribbean through depictions of complex, personal spaces and memory.” Anderson studied at the Wimbledon College of Art and the Royal College of Art in the United Kingdom. His first solo gallery show was in 2003 and in 2006 he was the artist in residence at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London. Earlier this year, Anderson had his first solo museum show at the Tate Britain.

The exhibit, as the Studio Museum’s website describes it . . .

 consists of seven paintings and nine works on paper that “re-imagine spaces created by Caribbean immigrants during the 1950s and 1960s. At that time, barbershops and other places for personal services often were opened in people’s homes and functioned as sites for both social gatherings and economic enterprise. These shop owners and their customers were among a significant wave of immigrants to the United Kingdom from the Caribbean Commonwealth countries after World War II. The barbershop was not only a place to get a haircut, but also a social space in which to meet and talk with one’s friends and neighbors.”
“Peter’s Series” takes as its subject one of the last-known of these spaces—a small attic that was converted into a barbershop where the artist’s father went for haircuts. Finding the space both complex and ambiguous, Anderson explored the technical exercise of recreating it many times. At first intrigued by the physical features of the attic, Anderson focused on the architecture of the room in early paintings, providing multiple perspectives of the space, like a series of portraits. Working from photographs, memory and imagination, Anderson painted and repainted the space, and even repainted a painting of it, continually reducing the interior architecture to its basic colors and simple geometric forms. In later paintings, he centralizes an anonymous figure in the barber’s chair, further negotiating between functional space and shared experience, while also providing a voyeuristic glimpse of a private moment.

The New York Times, in its review, writes that . . .

In his hands this unassuming motif is subjected, from painting to painting, to a formal process of subtraction and addition. The seven canvases and nine works on paper create a kind of glacially slow stop-action animation in the gallery, where the viewer, rather than the image, moves.

One painting presents only an angled band of vivid turquoise: the walls of the room. In several others blank shapes in the turquoise suggest mirrors or photographs hanging on these walls; a reddish floor is added, along with a console arrayed with abbreviated forms of objects. The male figure appears in one painting in the complete room. In another a figure sits before a blank expanse of turquoise wall surrounded by white, like a painter studying a canvas.

The images are thinly painted, almost like watercolor, sometimes with patches of white showing through that adds a decidedly unrealistic note. The result is a fragile, transient realm where little is reliable or solid. You could call it an immigrant’s world, or a place, shot through with a gentle melancholy, where we have all been at one point or another.

For more information go to http://www.studiomuseum.org/hurvin-anderson/

The New Yor Times review can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/11/arts/design/11gall.html

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