Ordinary Bodies, Ordinary Bones, includes large-scale, gestural and impasto, oil painting shown alongside energetic works on paper and a handful of raw sculptural works, all made over the past three years.
Each work emphatically casts light on the artists intense and introspective fascination with the universal mundanity and complexity of everyday existence acknowledging that life is made up of a paradoxical combination of deeply meaningful and utterly insignificant happenings and states of being. Themes such as isolation, addiction, love, sex, paranoia, empathy, fear and death are all visited and shared.
Litten is considered as a striking innovator with an awareness that, in the words of Virginia Woolf, ‘masterpieces are not single and solitary births: they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice’.
In ‘Soon She Will be Gone’, created in response to a near loss of life, a pulse like rhythm runs through the figure from left to right, breaking up and changing colour as it goes.
In ‘Sudden Involuntary Chemical Withdrawal’, a saturated, acidic whirling yellow background frames, immerses and overcomes an agitated male figure. Reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ (1893) the painting elucidates a palpable sense of struggle and alienation.
In ‘Paranoid Head, a solitary figure, trembles with intense and erratic energy, quivering with nervousness and fear. Litten doesn’t describe these as self-portraits - instead they are a mirror reflecting universal, wide-spread feelings of social unease.
‘Street Shrine’ was made in response to conversations with a couple coping with the loss of their teenage child. The exposure to grief is never far away in life - all of us must have experienced the sudden emotional jolt encountering a road side shrine, feeling hit by mortality at the sight of a familiar public space altered by private grief. The street is our street, we are all witnesses, the grief is a shared loss. The painting is an alter of shared emotion towards our collective fragility.
Ordinary Bodies, Ordinary Bones is an exhibition full of tales, each challenging yet compelling, the combination creates an emphatic, universal tableau of the unguarded human condition.
The exhibition coincides with a small retrospective of Andrew Litten’s studies and assemblages showing at the Royal Cornwall Museum entitled ‘Archive (selected works 1990-99)’ and has been developed with support from Arts Council England.
What could be more ordinary? It happens to us all. We are born... We die. We all fumble to shape the in between as best as we can. Aided by something or someone other. Liberated or suppressed by invitation or trespass. We rub against in passing, and sometimes stop and intertwine. Held, dependent, soothed or smothered. Life’s solitude breached. Sometimes scars remain. Soft blemishes and jagged tears. Conjurers of dormant joy and tears, comfort and fears. We all have to dance although we sometimes try to hide in the corner. We take turns to be led and then to lead. This becomes our journey, so we follow its path. We Skip, trip (tripped?), fall, huddle, hide, lift (lifted?), repeat… until...
It is our personal yet shared tribulation to come to terms with the juggle and link between our inner accumulated psychic complexity and those everyday occurrences that are happening to us and around us all the time until our approaching end. Our bodies and our minds soak up, but our bodies and our minds also leak. How impolite and embarrassing. We are all spilling out, although of course we try to button up and contain ourselves whilst we can. We’ve got to have some clinging and grasping order amongst the whirling chaos. However - this art says otherwise, because the truth says otherwise. I think Andrew Litten’s unique paintings are extraordinary. It takes enormous courage for honesty to out, for our nature to be stripped bare and for the artist and the audience to be left un-guarded. Litten’s strength as an artist is in this intense vulnerability and his idiosyncratic ability to encapsulate what is ostensibly, ordinary.
The raw, brutal yet patiently honed, human
scale paintings remind us of the timeless and unparalleled capacity for paint (when used appropriately) to suggest both the physical and metaphysical. Gestural expression is manifested in the mass of paint and emphasis of mark, containing within it pure human emotion. Reflecting both our psycho-state and external and internal bodily physicality. The visceral, viscous traces contain life, making these paintings intensely behavioural. Smaller works on paper feel more blistering by comparison. Vaporous and rapid, like stretched skin or fleeting thought. Yet there is a shadow that remains stitched. An ephemeral moment creates an evaporating yet punctuated image. In addition Litten has also made a number of significant small scale sculptural works. Rather than reflecting the mediums capacity to suggest weight, mass and rootedness, these raw yet sophisticated sculptures, appear animated suggesting struggle, movement, contortion and liminality alongside deep connectivity.
Litten states that “creativity is empowering and empathy is powerful. I want to create art that speaks of the love, anger, loss, personal growth and the private confusions we all experience in our lives. Perhaps subversive, tender, malevolent, compassionate, the need to see raw human existence drives it all forwards.” As he drives forward we have no choice but to follow, whether we like it or not. Life’s complex, rich and fleeting journey awaits us taking us all the way to the end of the line.
Joseph Clarke, 2018