Christopher Hartmann at Peter Von Kant
I'm very excited to be writing this, a review of my first exhibition visit in the flesh since March! I visited Peter Von Kant in Deptford, which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful art spaces in south London. Its authentic brickwork interior makes for a stunning environment that merges rustic and beautifully maintained aesthetics. On this occasion, paintings by London-based artist Christopher Hartmann accentuate both the exqusite features of the interior and the intimate details of Hartmann's work, which looks closely at body parts in isolation and as a whole, almost foreshadowing the plight of social distancing.
While all figures are seemingly Caucasian and male, there is a feeling that the artist has been influenced by universal conditions and emotions, and some of the blank expressions and fleeting gestures we see here suggest both that the world is full of mundane moments that contribute to memories good and bad, and similarly fantastic moments that are part of a more banal existence. 'Untitled', the first work that greets you as you enter the gallery, is the clearest example of this; I never thought I would enjoy a painting of a pair of rubber gloves so much, but here we are, 2020 is full of surprises. There is something poignant about the composition, whereby the gloves seem to be in motion, in use, but are placed out of context amongst grass. Given that we have all recently experienced the lockdown and have been confined to our homes, it makes perfect sense to be creating figurative art inspired by domestic objects. In reality, the banality of the entire experience means that we haven't really made memories, but we all undoubtedly have a greater appreciation for the minutiae and our home comforts.
'Untitled' is the only piece devoid of the synthetic pink flesh that threads through 'Come so close (that I might see)'; sufficiently lifelike so that we identify his figures as human, but thanks to an almost neon peach tone they are android-like enough to make us wonder if the artist is telling stories of society as a whole rather than personal, anecdotal ones. I can't help but view the works under the umbrella of the moment we are currently living in. In 'Standing Still, Moving On', three figures stand in profile, and I am reminded of the ways in which friends, acquaintances and loved ones appeared as nothing but profiles during lockdown, whether this is WhatsApp, Messenger, Twitter... despite them posting new content and confirming they are indeed safe and well in these strange times, their faces are static, much like Hartmann's men.
Perhaps my favourite piece in the show is 'Holding on to You', a painting aptly evoking loneliness in a way that most other mediums couldn't dream of. The almost Kraftwerk aesthetic to Hartmann's figures continues into this work, and the silent desperation and sadness as the blank-faced figure clasps onto what appears to be a pillow is again highly reminiscent of the solitude of lockdown. Recent studies claimed that in the UK we are seeing double the number of adults suffering with depression than this time last year; personally that seems unfeasibly low given how difficult this year has been for everyone on different levels. To be able to express this misery in a sensitive, meaningful way is a great challenge for any artist, and one that Hartmann has succeeded with early on.
It is not all doom and gloom; it really is great to be able to adapt in a way that permits art gallery visits again, and there are certainly surprisingly lighter moments to being in quarantine. The same can be said for the exhibition; Peter Von Kant is such an elegant space and is always a treat to visit regardless of the work on view, but I really enjoyed this showcase of Christopher Hartmann's work. The artist is currently on the MFA program at Goldsmiths, so I'm sure this won't be the last we see of him. Some of the works are very of the moment and highlights include making light of the comically bleak world of sexting, when the value and scarcity of human touch is so heightened. I'm intrigued to see how his work develops, and if it will continue to act as something of a telling capsule in future years.