Charlie Billingham The Comforts of Bath
The Comforts of Bath is Charlie Billingham’s second solo show with the gallery. Composed of variously sized oil paintings, a freestanding five-paneled screen, and tapestries combined with sculptures or canvases, the entire exhibition is set against a backdrop of columnar patterns that he paints directly onto the gallery’s walls. This new body of work illustrates Billingham’s continued interest in both honoring and questioning the canon of art history, simultaneously. Specifically, his paintings reference a genre of prints and drawings from late 18th-early 19th century Britain, often satirical in nature, now redefined by his 21st century appropriation. Using Regency-era imagery as a starting point, the artist reflects upon what he calls “a symbol of a certain type of taste.”
The exhibition’s title and source material directly reference a series of etchings made by Thomas Rowlandson in 1798. Rowlandson’s suite of twelve prints chronicled the social scene from the city of Bath during its heyday, where claims of mineral water “therapy” attracted the wealthy who often suffered from gout and other illnesses. Ironically, the cause of these ailments typically resulted from overindulgence, a lifestyle that continued as Bath became a decadent retreat for the upper class. Billingham’s paintings repeat particular fragments from these etchings, but instead of intaglio grey scale and subtle marks, he paints his own renditions. Using bright colors and gestural black lines, his fragmented selections depict a gentleman’s dancing legs, or a detail from a passionate encounter, for example.
Alongside the paintings, Billingham presents three new works comprised of small-scale oil paintings of figurative imagery, affixed to large-scale tapestries that are colored and composed with nebulous abstractions. These works consider the act of looking. The canvases are further reduced segments – two men from a crowd gazing up a woman’s skirt become barely discernible. They stare through their spectacles, but now they stare into the space of Billingham’s tapestry painting – the view is evocative due to its non-objectiveness, yet vacant for the spectators because it lacks the context of subjective pleasure. A five-panel screen deals with erotic implications of voyeurism, sexual fantasy, and partial viewing. With every iteration, Billingham’s work ruminates on the contradictions of Bath – the revelry, the grandeur, and the discomforts, therein.
DatesSeptember 16 - October 29, 2016
Opening ReceptionFriday, September 16, 6-9pm
Location937 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90069
All images: The Comforts of Bath, 2016. Photography courtesy of Morán Morán