What is not to like about Phatspace? What a gallery, what a feeling, what a hell of an organisation they’ve got over there! Where other galleries rest on their laurels and let business take care of itself once they’ve opened, Phatspace took over the old Gitte Weise rooms on Oxford Street and haven’t looked back since. On our visit we noticed how the place has been spruced up with new doors and fixtures and, on a sunny early autumn morning with light streaming through the windows, it felt good to be alive.
We had come to see Roz Yeung’s show Surfacing The Lotus and to be honest, we hadn’t expected much. Most artist-run hire galleries – even ones that as carefully curated as Phatspace – end up alternating between big, come-one-come-all group shows and smaller, three to four people shows. The only artists who can afford to hire out an entire gallery on their own for a solo show are people who are either rich and have no idea of what they are doing, or they’re artists willing to gamble the big bucks required to hire out a gallery because they’re making a major effort to get noticed by critics or a pro gallery and hang the expense.
We suspected Yeung may have been one of the latter types but the chances were we’d turn up and it’d be awful. We’re not being nasty about desperado artists, it’s just the way it is and judging by the JPEG that was sent out with the press release for the Yeung show, it wasn’t looking good – the pic was of a large colour-field style abstract canvas with colours that looked rather… indistinct. Nothing really could prepare us for the surprise we had when we walked into the gallery and saw that Yeung’s show was far from any of our preconceived notions.
Phatspace was arranged with canvases – on one side was eight or nine paintings ranging from white through to a very rich pink, on the facing wall was the canvas from the invitation. Then there were some black and white pictures of lotus flowers, some cushions on the floor (two fake fur pillows in hot pink and red) and a couch with another cushion for contemplating the room. In the back room was a chart of the colours used in the main room’s paintings stuck to the wall and, on the floor, an array of materials used to make the paintings, brushes, newspapers, bottles of paint, cardboard boxes. There was also a series of Polaroids stuck to the edge of the dividing wall of the artist (we think) in the process of hanging the show – a serious look on her face, one hand holding a beer, the other pointing at something.
If you’re going to make a show about the conceptual process of painting, this is the way to do it. Yeung had created a show that explained its own creation – the colours of the canvases were all colours derived from the colour palate of the lotus yet, perversely, where there were actual images of the lotus, the pictures were in black and white. The inevitable impulse in the viewer’s mind was to collate the colours from the room and place them into the lotus flowers, and then go back in the other direction and process what looked like decorative canvases of single colours into some relation between the non-representational colour fields and those of a picture of a lotus. In other words, once you realised where all the colours had come from, you couldn’t help but see abstract pictures as figurative. Yeung’s show was about expanded painting in much the same way as the Mark Titmarsh show at Artspace back in February, but whereas Titmarsh presents his objects and sculptural items au naturél and without explanation, Yeung’s work was a conceptual step-through of her ideas. It was exhilarating and fun to get the idea so simply and then luxuriate in the sheer pleasure of the colours – the fake fur cushions were nice too.
By some cosmic coincidence, the pinks and reds that Yeung had used were also in the same range as the paint used on the doors of the suites in the building that Phatspace occupies. That Yeung had chosen to place a couple of canvases out in the corridor away from the gallery’s front door seemed to confirm that she recognised the fact but we were assured by the Phatspace people that it was just a coincidence. Yeah right, we thought, Roz Yeung is trying to mess with our minds, and it’s working!