Do you want to take a trip with Alice down a rabbit hole and look at the world through a looking glass, so that it looks just slightly bigger and slightly different - then head on down to the Hugh Mendes ‘Obituaries’ exhibition in Shoreditch.
The exhibition consists of small, beautifully produced, paintings of obituaries form newspapers, and what I like about them is the filter they lower in front of your eyes so that you see these people you've heard about time and again, in another light.
Take the painting of Amy Winehouse, she’s looking off into the distance as she sings, but instead of conjuring up the sense of someone’s glazed drunken eyes staring in an unfocused fashion there’s this sense that she’s looking away in a determined fashion at something that really interests her, and she’s not concerned about us - her audience - one bit. She also looks surprisingly happy.
Hugh Mendes 'Obituary Amy Winehouse' Oil on linen 35x25cm 2011
Or look at the Painting of Kim Jong il. Instead of this evoking thoughts in me of Korea I can’t help focusing on the sunglasses. They look kind of 70s and set my mind thinking about people sipping cocktails at beach bars on glamorous Caribbean islands.
Hugh Mendes 'Obituary Kim Jong il' Oil on linen 35x25cm 2012
Then look at the painting of Osama Bin Laden - there's a strange wistfulness in his eyes.
Hugh Mendes 'Obituary Osama bin Laden' Oil on linen 35x25cm 2011
Each of the paintings takes you on a little trip, down an unexpected imaginative avenue related to these people’s lives. That’s probably the skill in these pictures, by just apparently simply copying them, Hugh sets up all sorts of responses in the viewer - and brings home just how important these images are, and how much information we glean from them.
Take the painting of Lucian Freud, on the left lit section of his face he looks kind of affable and friendly - but then on the right shadowy section there's a sense of something creepy and crafty. Also what’s great about this painting is the tonal quality it has. There’s a real feel of the quality of a photograph to it as the black in the background has a glistening lustrous quality and it’s as if you can feel the different colours that have made up that deep, rich black.
Hugh Mendes 'Obituary Lucian Freud' Oil on linen 25.5x25.5cm 2011
These deep blacks were something that especially struck me when I was looking at the pictures in the flesh. In a strange way it was as if Hugh was painting the quality of a photo - I know these images came from newspapers - but somehow it just felt like I was looking at a painting that communicated the atmosphere of a photograph - which was a strange but pleasurable thing.
I’ve seen a couple of Hugh’s exhibition over the years and the quality of the paintings just keeps on getting better and better - and these are the best yet. So if you fancy blowing your mind a little and want to see some paintings that are not so much homages, but views through a looking glass then don’t miss this show.
Review by Robert Dunt, practising artist and Founder & CEO ArtTop10.com - www.robertdunt.com
‘Obituaries” by Hugh Mendes runs at Charlie Smith london from Friday February 24th – Saturday March 31st 2012
or by appointment
336 Old St, 2nd Floor, London, EC1V 9DR