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Exhibition review: Seeing architecture in a different light

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Artist Jemma Appleby is the standout star in The Light in the World is Without a Significant Plan, a showcase of three artists working with themes of architecture and light, writes Rupert Bickersteth

Flooded with natural light on the corner of Kensington Park Road and Westbourne Grove, the striking work of Jemma Appleby provides an immediate graphic punch as you enter the Daniel Benjamin Gallery. Appleby is one of three female artists exhibited by the gallery and brought under the title The Light in the World is Without a Significant Plan in a show curated by gallery director Andrea P Maffioli.

Appleby’s work investigates the subject of architecture and space. She uses black charcoal to create precise architectural shapes, astonishingly, by hand. The level of exactitude in the lines and the subtle gradation of tone and shadow is all the more impressive once you learn that she produces her work entirely by hand. The finished pieces look almost like they could be artistic renders or AdobeSuite design work, or an immaculate etching or lithographic print. On very close inspection there is the satisfying, if tiny, splinter of the charcoal along the lines where the masking tape has been lifted.

There is a challenge to identify well-known architectural motifs that have been stripped of perhaps more defining features

These minuscule ascriptions to the human process enliven the work and imbue the ghostly architectural subjects with personal feeling. As Appleby herself acknowledges, the works ‘amplify each environment’s simplicity and purity with an aim of clarification. These clean minimal spaces offer little information yet have an authority to describe a magnitude. The non-narrative architectural spaces make enquiries of the memory, knowledge and experience of human space.’ It is very effective image making and worth making the trip to the gallery for these works alone.

Jemma appleby #1301115 2015 charcoal on paper 110x110cm daniel benjamin gallery

Jemma appleby #1301115 2015 charcoal on paper 110x110cm daniel benjamin gallery

Caruso St John staircase at the Newport Street Gallery by Jemma Appleby

For the real architecture fan, there is a challenge to identify well-known architectural motifs that have been stripped of perhaps more defining features – for example; the Caruso St John staircase at Newport Street Gallery, presented in high contrast and without its handrail or bottom steps visible. They resemble the tender photographic works of Hélène Binet, but selectively stripping the architecture down even further to evoke its essence. Similarly, Appleby translates the inescapably identifiable work of Tadao Ando, but which curved concrete project, illuminated from above, is it?

At first approach, the subjects often seem abstract, but upon noticing the shapes’ smooth surfaces, the viewer notices a ‘real’ element to it with the light absorbing one’s attention and shadows confirming their authenticity. Only parts of the buildings are shown, suggesting the architecture is not the focus point, but an accessory to the subject of the work, which is the light. Through this, a perspective is created, following its natural path, achieved with accomplished chiaroscuro.

The exhibition looks at the artists’ response to the relationship between architecture and light. By creating or reproducing a controlled environment, they examine the ways light interacts with different shapes, and play with the direction and path it naturally takes.

Besides Appleby, the show includes the cold but colourful work of Zsofia Schweger where the complete absence of depicted shadow generates ‘motionless metaphysical interiors, preventing them from being occupied, with a stillness discarding movement and therefore, life as well.’

Rounding out the trio is Susan Phillips’ sculpture inspired by Brutalist architecture. Created in porcelain clay, they explore themes of fragility and monumentality and, with a roughened surface, absorb and invite light to play across the surfaces throughout the day.

The Light in the World is Without a Significant Plan is free to visit at the Daniel Benjamin Gallery, 120 Kensington Park Road, London, until 16 May 

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