Art Review: Nicolas Party | Jennifer West

At the Modern Institute Aird's Lane the Swiss artist Nicolas Party's second major solo show for the gallery is a reprise of much that has made his art distinctive and wildly popular since he graduated with an MFA from Glasgow School of Art in 2009. Born in 1980 and currently based in Brussels, he is a classically trained painter who also spent a decade as a graffiti artist in his native Switzerland. In the contradictions of those interests there is a pleasing dissonance between the untrammelled energy of the settings he creates for his art versus the apparent propriety of his oils, watercolours and more recently chalk pastels.

Three Cats by Nicolas Party at The Modern Institute, Airds Lane, Glasgow. Image courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute.  Photography: Max Slaven
Three Cats by Nicolas Party at The Modern Institute, Airds Lane, Glasgow. Image courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute. Photography: Max Slaven

There is something irredeemably bourgeois about Party’s subject matter: a stolid world of portly coffee pots, bowls of plump and pillowy fruit, and pretty, pouty androgynes in awkward eye shadow. His landscapes might come from the fat trees and lush jungles of Henri Rousseau, his schematic figures from Leger or from Picasso at his most bulky and neo-classical. His still life works quote insouciantly from the most austere end of the spectrum, artists like Cezanne and Morandi. Yet Party transforms these subjects with a camp exuberance in colours that are strictly non-naturalistic and sets them against wildly irreverent patterning, wall drawings and screen-printed “wallpapers”. Suddenly a coffee pot seems a stand in for a priapic male figure, and a tree seems as exotic and unlikely as a bright red sea coral.


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Nicolas Party Three Cats ***

Modern Institute Aird’s Lane, Glasgow


Jennifer West: Flashight Film Strip Projections ***

Tramway, Glasgow


Party has come roaring into the firmament in the last five years with staged dinner parties for which he has designed the ceramics and the table settings including cube shaped seats painted as elephants (in Glasgow) and dogs (in New York, where every gallerist has a pampered pooch). His designs have been used for performance sets and plinths. A temporary mural for the Bothy Project in Glasgow was a riot of colour transforming a derelict spot near Speirs Wharf into a post-impressionist paradise with hallucinogenic tendencies. A tiled mural of twisting carrots decorates the stairs at David Dale gallery in Glasgow’s Bridgeton. The heterogeneous nature of the painter’s sources was emphasised at a recent show at Edinburgh’s Inverleith House where the walls displayed giant fingers, suggesting that the images might have been retrieved not from the annals of an art library but from an easy swipe of an iPad screen.

At Aird’s Lane a new series of pastels is hung on temporary walls that have been transformed by the artist working with an expert in decorative finishes – white walls are turned into Carrera marble confections or richly patterned green malachite, a shiny surface that might adorn the most immodest of oligarch’s bathroom suites. As though to emphasize the tromp l’oeil trickery, these are not just single walls but squiggles suggesting they are digital fillers, options to reset or swipe away at any second.

Most of the staples are here: a fat, grey elephant, a plump bowl of purplish plums that irresistibly suggest the human anatomy. There is a trio of smug and sphinx-like cats, and a blond Picasso Adonis. In pastel Party employs the same dense approach that he does with paint, laying it on thick but avoiding modelling in favour of a flat, graphic style. But his framed works are at their best amongst their ornamental settings and one worries how they might feel plucked from the gallery walls and placed elsewhere.

Party rejects a lot of the of recent art, painting that is so bad it is deemed good, punk aesthetics, uncertainty and authenticity. Instead his capacity to delight and cheerfully pillage feels a throwback to the decade of his birth and the riot of painterly postmodernism. As someone who lived through the art of the eighties and much of its rather empty and bloated figurative painting I have a lurking fear that relinquishing his spray can or ceramics entirely might render Party’s framed works as chilly as their glorious marble and malachite settings. In the meantime, however, he continues to tread carefully on the right side of classical and clever.

If Party happily plunders the past there is an air of irredeemable melancholy at Tramway for Flashlight Filmstrip Projections, an exhibition that lurks in total blackout and celebrates film not as a medium but as a material. The California artist Jennifer West has created a vast room-sized installation consisting of inert strips of suspended celluloid that come alive when you shine a torch on them to project the images on the walls. Some of these are pieces of original filmstrip, others are messed with by bleaching or decorating clear strips with coloured lipstick kisses, grids and abstract splashes. All of it reminds you that shooting on analogue film has virtually disappeared and the physical properties of film have vanished into the darkness.

Stumbling around in the dark is fun, but I’ve found that in my amateur hands it can be hard to make the celluloid strips come alive as emphatically as one might hope for. You will get better if you are lucky enough to attend one of the Saturday afternoon performances that take place during the exhibition. Last Saturday a troupe of white clad performers rendered the whole room alive, creating vast walls of colour and moving pattern through adept torch usage.

While production details are hard

to come by, when I visited the 15-minute performance included a wonderful, stuttering and strobe-like soundtrack from musicians including the artist Raydale Dower, their staccato rhythms echoing perfectly the old-fashioned pleasure of film’s frame-by-frame frame of reference. ■

Nicolas Party until 29 October; Jennifer West until 30 October