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British Art Show – Nicolas Deshayes (3)

A surprising highlight of the British Art Show for me are the rolled steel tubes presented, on the floor of Inverleith House, by Nicolas Deshayes.
I would say there are a lot of people who make work a bit like Deshayes, both work that looks a bit like it, and also a huge number of artists who are interested in the same themes. A while ago I blogged about Ian McKeever and the idea that all paintings are about paint. Deshayes’ work is about paint, fat, poo or whatever but it still has that essential exploration of surface and process. Some of his work does resemble Jason Martin’s paintings but Deshayes makes the the spare elegance of Martin’s paintings look like indulgently theatrical as his own is even more pared down and process driven.
I suppose this is the sort of sculpture that people use to deride contemporary art – looking as it does as if someone left a few ends of rolls of lino on the floor by accident. And yet, I found the work really powerful. For a start Inverleith House is the sort of building which would be described in a Jane Austen novel as a comfortable family home. It is set in a Botanic Garden and so frankly the whole thing is very beautiful. Deshayes’ rolls of steel are actual sculptures – real objects that sit there, in a sense contained in themselves – and that punctuates the flow of installation and video art in a way that gives pause.
They are also painted in such a way that all the painting looks inadvertent, but the resultant marks prompt thoughts of the cosmos, urban roadworks and the history of post war painting. Back when I used to teach one or two day oil painting courses I can remember commiserating with students when, after 5 or 10 hours of toil, their palette was far more beautiful and accomplished looking than their actual painting. In Deshayes’ work, because the marks and resulting interplay of surface, colour and space feel so lightly harnessed, the objects have a similar feel to something one might find in nature. The artist is not so much saying ‘look what I can do’ as ‘look what this can do’ and waiting for the quieter voice of the object to speak is a nice counterpoint to the crazy narratives of some of the video and other artists in the show overall.

Posted by author: Emma Drye
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