The Montage Gallery: Girls and Monsters (until 22nd October 2013)

Update: The Montage Gallery is no longer functioning as a gallery space.

The Montage café and art gallery, SE23, is a hidden treasure in the increasingly art-centric Forest Hill in south-east London. Currently exhibiting is Pawel Wasek, with his collection 'Girls and Monsters'.

An integral part of the exhibition is self-reflection and the workings of the inner psyche, which is always interesting as each viewer will have different ideas and contributions to the theme. One of the most stimulating pieces, with this in mind, is one of two titled 'Girl and Monster'. The painting comprises of a naked woman, legs sloppily outstretched and both her breasts and vagina graphically exposed. She has something of a courtesan air to her, with an apparent full face of makeup, also sloppily applied, and a rather eager, yet vacant expression on her face, which is interesting to piece together. There is a very uncomfortable sensation that comes with this painting; it could be the disjointed way in which her legs have been painted, in that they are stemming from her at an impossible angle. The incompatibility of several features of the painting suggest the female subject is broken, not least by the 'monster' that lurks behind her. The artist's choice of title for the exhibition makes the viewer think of the female psyche, state of mind, which men infamously find bewildering.

Another image that has poignant value is a painting entitled 'Tattoo (Girl With A Tattoo)'. Again, Wasek has employed the technique of making the viewer feel uncomfortable. This time we see the portrait of a half-naked woman (thankfully without the vagina dentata-like detail of the last) with the intriguing addition of what appears to be an apparition within her torso. My initial thought of the painting was that the internal sketch represented a conscience, a force which although not visible is a constant presence in the life of the subject, which we can all relate to.

Throughout there is a powerful theme of the unsaid, the power of the mind; what we internalise. The ominous nature of a painting called 'Incident' certainly allows the viewer to perceive the image in their own way, which is always essential in contemporary art. The painting shows a naked man standing on a bloody corpse of a torso. The organic vision of the naked man alongside the almost anonymity of the dead body highlights the potency of human guilt. As you can see below, there is also a faint outline of a body next to the naked man, which is a recurring theme in the collection. Here I believe Wasek is showing us that everyday guilt and shame hangs onto our conscience like that of committing murder. The bold, red staining of the painting shows us that we cannot escape our actions from the past, just like we can never escape the blood running through our veins.

Irrespective of personal religious and aesthetic preferences, Biblical art is unavoidable, both within the canon and outside it. Examining how the artist interprets certain aspects of the stories is always interesting, and Wasek does not disappoint. At around seven foot in height, perhaps the most eye-catching pieces of the exhibition are 'Banished From Paradise'. The artist's use of dominant, unmovable black paint and violent reds, as expressed in 'Incident', gives an almost demonic feel to the painting. It also feels particularly unnerving and real due to its human-size scale. Sexual exposure, resulting in vulnerability, is also a motif within the exhibition, as the second 'Banished From Paradise' painting has abandoned the use of dark colours in the groin area to illuminate the genital sketch, bringing our attention to the sexual connotations of the Fall of Man story.

Personally I feel that 'Girls And Monsters' gives a lot more to the viewer than what can be ascertained from the exhibition's publicity. It is a collection well worth seeing, especially if you enjoy conceptual art that allows you to look within yourself for confirmation of its ideas; there is certainly a psychoanalytic element of this exhibition which is worth exploring.

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