Text essay by Matt Price from Grief and Oblivion, Extract
Violence and battles are also central to the recent works of painter Sally Payen. In a major new oil painting created for the exhibition, He had to run to save himself from oblivion, yet through running he forgets himself (2010) Payen brings together a plethora of imagery taken from urban riots – some from Birmingham, some from Brighton, others from Northern Ireland. Masked rioters brandishing improvised weapons confront riot police on horseback, while shadowy figures are engaged in a number of incidents and episodes around them. Painted in a muted palette of greys with the slightest washes of yellow, blue and red, the figurative elements of the painting teeter on the edge of abstraction, merging with the architecture suggested behind – some brick-like forms, some arches receding into the right hand corner, and some railings or barriers that penetrate the action. It is a dreamlike scene, a collage of half-remembered vignettes from newspapers, TV and the Internet, capturing a sense of the breakdown of law and order that must be experienced in the midst of civil unrest. Payen’s accomplished painting brings a refined vocabulary of brush marks and textures to calculated yet naïve, stylised forms. The painting speaks of something primordial within civilisation, of primitive instincts being played out in late capitalist society and of the aggressive underbelly of (a largely patriarchal) democracy.
Whilst being a very modern painting, that it is influenced by the history of painting and of battle scenes is made clear by the accompanying oil on gesso work Battle, after Uccello (2010) – a small though highly animated painting of a partially masked figure poised to throw a short pole or stake of some kind at a mounted policeman. The reference to Paolo Uccello’s 15th-century masterpiece at the National Gallery, The Battle of San Romano (sometimes referred to as The Rout of San Romano) connects Payen’s contemporary scenes of rioting to Niccolò da Tolentino leading Florentine cavalry against the army of Siena. Another piece by Payen, also entitled Battle, after Uccello (2010) depicts just the policeman on horseback, rendered with a remarkable economy of painterly means – just a small number of carefully executed brush strokes evoking all of the drama, movement, and physicality of the horseman under attack.
It is drama, movement and physicality in the heat of a riot that are the focus of Payen’s two paintings The Fear (2010), depicting groups of young men marauding through the streets. Viewed close-up and from slightly above, as if from CCTV cameras, the aggression and tension is palpable, the men looking about them with an overriding air of menace. They could be football hooligans, they might be G8 protesters or this could be a scene from the Troubles – they could, in fact, be mobilised by any number of social or political causes to have hit the headlines in recent years. And should a riot lead to revolution, they could be laying the foundations for the vacuum of power that almost inevitably ensues in such circumstances, resulting in familiar scenes of anarchy, looting and violence until authority is restored or a new power established. A number of ink and vellum works by the artist depict scenes of rioting in sharper detail, the face of a police dog staring out at the viewer, a young man weighing up his chances against an unseen target. Payen’s works delve into the subconscious of urban violence, bringing the history of battles and their depiction into the present with both gravity and grace.
CV & Education
Solo exhibitions 2013 - The Chase and The Ambush, Hereford Museum and Art Gallery 2012 - Wolverhampton Riots - One Year on, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Wolverhampton 2010 - Forever Run... from one nothing to the next, Galleria Gallerati, Rome 2009 - Land Grab, Bryant Priest Newman, Birmingham 2009 - Sally Payen - Shringlej22, Forte Sangello, Nettuno, Rome Group exhibitions 2013 - Flowers Gallery London, 'Small is Beautiful' 2013 - Ludlow open 2013, Worcester Open 2012 - Some Domestic Incidents, MAC Birmingham, Birmingham UK 2011 - Some Domestic Incidents - Prague Biennale 5, Microna Ceskoslovenskeho, Prague 2011 - The Witching Hour Darkness and the Architectural uncanny, PM Gallery and House, London 2010 - Grief and Oblivion, Trove Newhall square, Birmingham UK 2010 - The Witching Hour , Waterhall Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham UK 2009 - Artists Meeting - Arts Machine, Pulse Art Fair, Miami 2009 - War on War, Biennial of Contemporary Art, Forte Sangello, Nettuno and Anzio Rome 2008 - 08 Open West Midlands, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Wolverhampton, UK