Nel Aerts at Carl Freedman Gallery

NB: Carl Freedman Gallery is now located in Margate.

This solo show by Belgian artist Nel Aerts at Carl Freedman Gallery, EC2A, is much like a biographical film, in that we are treated to a sequence of bittersweet life moments, through vignettes of achievement, banality and recreating famous art historical imagery, the satire of which provides a comical edge to the exhibition. Each painting is strikingly tall and in turn shows off the large, bright gallery space, boasting enviably high ceilings, giving Aerts' work a museum-like presentation.

Contextual information is provided for the works, informing us of the artist finding herself in a place of solitude, a pre-requisite for many artists in history before they produced their best work. The titular piece merges comedy and a certain darkness in a wonderful way, as the figure, with pink skin, green hair and cartoonish eyes, is seen propped up at a bar drinking wine. Her surroundings are notably void of human company and she is naked from the waist up, instantly alluding to vulnerability and a struggle with expressing emotion. 'The Masterbed' also sees the artist addressing a kind of fragility that comes with exposing the female form that is very much in line with the male gaze, both in the past and very much a contemporary perspective.

Nel Aerts, The Masterbed, 2017. Acrylic, oil, oil sticks, velvet, corduroy on canvas, 230cm x 170cm. 
Carl Freedman Gallery, London.

Being situated on a bed has various connotations but the tone of Aerts' practice is incredibly important when considering her works, as there is a real satire that is not jumping out and screaming in the viewer's face, but it is subtle, interesting and ensuring that the viewer wants to spend more time with the works. There seems to be a real shared focus of both art and design in 'The Village Idiot', as components of each respective painting hold bold and enticing patterns, whether this is a wooden bed post or a peach sky background which could be a depiction of a real sky or simply wallpaper. The viewer does feel that they are entering the artist's dream world, and there could even be a psychoanalytical reading of why Aerts has produced certain designs and what they mean in relation to the image and wider references to art and design.

Nel Aerts, Holiday, 2016. Colouring pencil and felt-tip pen on inkjet print, 35.6cm x 27cm. 
Carl Freedman Gallery, London. 
Hosting an exhibition with solely wall-based works, and large ones at that, allows Carl Freedman Gallery to open up the space in which to witness the paintings and drawings; it is certainly effective in exposing Aerts' colour palettes and subject matter which are fun and jovial on the surface but within their own contexts are sincere and relatable. Showing these works in London, a city that is densely populated but often lacking personal, emotional connections, is rather poignant, as we can bear witness to the chasm between reality and dreams and locate the theme of displacement. Where the work really comes to life is its halfway point between reality and colour-filled fantasy; yes, we may be able to relate to sitting alone with a drink, but the vibrancy of each segment of the painting demands our attention, begging us to notice it. As an allegory of solitude and loneliness, Aerts' paintings are able to reach out to each and every one of us. 

Nel Aerts, The Village Idiot, 2017. Acrylic, oil, oil sticks, velvet and corduroy on canvas, 220cm x 180cm. 
Carl Freedman Gallery, London.

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