ON MY way towards New Bond Street - the exciting new gallery
space Parafin lies just behind Bonhams, the auctioneers - I called
in at the press view for Anselm Kiefer's large retrospective at the
Royal Academy, in Piccadilly, and then at Sam Fogg, in Clifford
Street, which is showing an outstandingly beautiful range of
The walk offered an interesting excursion into both colour and
monochromatic techniques, and may have affected how I saw the
inaugural London show of the Czech-born hyperrealist artist Hynek
Martinec (born 1980).
The Kiefers are rightly celebrated, in part, for their sheer
scale, and for the textured use of not very much colour; three
pictures from the Attic series (1973) are all brown wood, and are
hung together like an extension to the Academy's parquet floor.
Elsewhere, he makes use of coal and lead. Think monochrome; think
Medieval manuscripts tend, by the nature of their production, to
be smaller in scale, although there is a larger-than-folio volume
of Lewis of Caerleon's collected scientific works which is reckoned
to be the author's presentation copy (of 1495), alongside
diminutive Books of Hours and minutely illuminated title deeds.
They are also intensely coloured, the rich-blue hues or reds
often leaping off the parchment between margins of interlaced gold.
The open page of the Northumberland Bible (c.1250-60),
formerly at Alnwick Castle, holds a surprisingly graceful drawing
of the seated Madonna and Child, picked out in the softest of
By contrast, Martinec, who has been taking part in the John
Moores Painting Prize at the Liverpool Biennal, uses both
large-scale and smaller-format canvases (from 50 × 50cm to 224 ×
184cm) to offer a series of fairly random reflections on life as a
thirty-something feels it. He has played with ideas deriving from
the memento mori archetypes of death's heads, damaged
statuary, decaying flowers, and still-lifes to pass modern comment
on ways of living. Vanitas, vanitas, all is
vanitas, this prophet says.
Does he say anything more? Martinec is a painter who enjoys his
programmatic titles (and upper-case letters): You Will Become
As My God, Speak The Truth Even Your Voice Shakes,
and Six Years of Tabula Rasa, for instance.
I found the technique by which he suggests slightly foggy or
out-of-focus images, which seemingly derive from photographs,
beguiling, as each oil painting is artfully made to look as if it
is an Ektachrome print or sepia from the last century.
The indebtedness is sometimes rather more transparent: The
Whisper of the Candle recalls a first-communion photograph of
a turn-of-the-century girl in white, holding a candle in her right
hand. In her left she dangles a lion face-mask. In the picture next
to it, the lion's face becomes a detail on a masonry balustrade by
which another innocent girl stands impassively, clutching her
piccolo (Fairytale for Little Horn). Her bonnet terminates
in a single horn. Is she a deflowered Rhinemaiden?
Speak The Truth is more conventionally a
vanitas image of a skull next to an ice-cream cone (!);
and a PAL digital radio is set next to a crab on a table, on which
is a towering wicker basket with a squid pouring down the side of
it, in the larger-than-life Experience of Being Alive.
Martinec was not listed as a prizewinner at the Walker Art
Gallery competition, but this London debut is impressive in its
playfulness, and a good start for a new Mayfair gallery.
"Hynek Martinec: Every Minute You Are Closer to Death" is at
Parafin, 18 Woodstock Street, London W1, until 11 October. Phone
020 7495 1969.
"Art and Ownership: An Exhibition of Medieval and
Renaissance Manuscripts" is at Sam Fogg, 15D Clifford Street,
London W1, until 24 October. Phone 0207 534 2100.
"Anselm Kiefer" continues at the Royal Academy of Arts,
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1, until 14 December. Phone
020 7300 8000.