What Kind of Spirit is This? at Sim Smith Gallery

I gravitate to exhibitions of painting as much as I can; despite the wide range of media on offer in London's art scene, I always cave back to painting. Anyway, it is with this in mind that I was excited to check out Sim Smith Gallery in south London, which turned out to be yet another space taking form inside a house. I do think galleries are great in residential spaces, but the lack of signage made it difficult to find, to the point that I thought I may have been knocking on a stranger's front door. What I encountered was a strong showing of contemporary painting with one ceramic piece, accompanied by a press release steeped in literary history and allusions to further enhance interpretation.

Jonathan McCree, Pink Park #1, 2019. Oil stick, airbrush and acrylic on canvas in artist-made frame, 150cm x 110cm. Sim Smith Gallery, London.

There is a great deal of textures on display, which I always appreciate, and with a range of sizes the whole experience is made even richer. Back to the press release, I felt two ways about reading a document that was so well-researched and interesting, as ideally you want to get the gist of the exhibition without reading a long-winded text alongside it. This isn't out of my sheer laziness, more that making exhibitions so high brow that they become academic is quite unnecessary for a viewing experience; you want to avoid alienating people. Written by the show's curator, artist David Surman, the release makes direct references to the Kate Bush track 'Misty' and Ovid's 'The Metamorphosis'. By bringing 'Misty' into the mix, we are introduced to a world of pure fantasy, whereby Bush clarifies that the song is about a girl who builds a snowman which later comes to visit her in her bedroom.

In isolation, this is a great point of entry into the exhibition thinking about fantasy; it is not uncommon or fantastical to think about art in the context of the home, yet in Sim Smith Gallery the domestic space is completely transformed by the respective subject matters of this group show. British artist Jonathan McCree's large scale work 'Pink Park #1', with a palette straight out of a children's book, is a brilliant primer. A pink landscape is immediately soothing, reminiscent of candy; it's escapism in its simplest form, and I can imagine the piece was therapeutic to create. 

Installation view: What Kind of Spirit is This?, Sim Smith Gallery, 3 May - 1 June 2019.
Image courtesy of David Surman on Twitter. 

Overall, the show is filled with busy environments and abstraction with a hint of the familiar, just enough to bring the viewer, and artist alike, back to a crushing reality. Aly Helyer's work is fantastic and for me the highlight; the portrait-style piece 'Honesty' is a palatable size with earthy tones evoking an entirely broken scenario, or indeed person, being stitched back together. Kate Groobey's 'I Hate Everything Man' is also great, although fits in less succinctly with such a dramatic and majestic theme. 'What Kind of Spirit is This?' is a show for regular exhibition-goers, for art lovers, for those who not only want to escape from the chaos of outside but want to dive head-first into a new world of a different kind of madness, with bright colours and fiction and maybe even magic.

Aly Helyer, Dreamlander, 2019. Gouache and tempera on watercolour paper, 31cm x 23cm.
Sim Smith Gallery, London

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