Nicolas Party

The Modern Institute, Glasgow, UK

4.-2013-NP-TMI-Instal_.04_.jpg

Nicolas Party, ‘Still Life Oil Paintings  and Landscape Watercolours’,  2013, installation view

Nicolas Party, ‘Still Life Oil Paintings and Landscape Watercolours’, 2013, installation view

Nicolas Party is an artist who draws extensively on painting’s past, though he isn’t weighed down by it. Speaking in 2011 about his approach to the medium, he said: ‘I’m playing with the ingredients I have in my kitchen, but none of those ingredients are original or unique […] What I find exciting is that I know these elements are supposed to make a “good” painting somehow.’ Implicitly eschewing the ‘bad’ painting of an earlier generation, Party’s excitement with the traditions and process of painting, along with his inquisitive energy, was evident throughout this first major UK solo show from the Glasgow-based Swiss artist. Its straightforward title, ‘Still Life Oil Paintings and Landscape Watercolours’, emphasized Party’s interest in the tropes of painting and its historical precedents, but its sober tone told only half the story.

There were eight still lifes, reconsidered and reworked over the last year and a half; in a small gallery space upstairs, seven landscapes all but glowed with lively, luminous colour. On their own, these exquisitely composed, precisely worked paintings would have made a compelling show. But Party’s interest in the transformative properties of paint is such that a gallery’s white walls are viewed as rather more than somewhere to hang work. Instead, they offer another opportunity to explore the shape-shifting physicality of paint. An opportunity, as well, to work in a more responsive, less painstaking way, drawing on his time as a graffiti artist while growing up in Switzerland in the early 1990s.

At The Modern Institute, the artist’s habit of turning walls into a kind of stage set for his paintings – an approach Party has employed in a variety of ways for previous shows – revealed just how effective an exhibition-maker he is. The white cube’s blank face was transformed into a warm-spirited dance. A troupe of spraypainted ovals fizzed with colour – red, green, blue, yellow – flowing out of the main ground-floor gallery into the office spaces and up the stairs. Even the corridor outside the gallery’s toilets featured the pattern (in blue), although the toilets themselves were off limits. (This isn’t always the case: for his 2011 installation at ReMap 3 in Athens, the spraycan was put to work in the bathroom, too.) Party’s use of spraypaint for this decorative wall pattern (Decorative Pattern, 2013), and others before, was a nod to his past involvement with graffiti. But it’s the paint’s materiality, rather than its appropriation by urban street culture, that he is interested in. It’s a point that was emphasized in the upstairs gallery, where the even finish afforded by spraypaint was replaced by the softer, more inconsistent effect of charcoal – a journey from modern and manufactured to the most primal of mark-making materials.

Charcoal was also used in the main gallery to create two large-scale wall drawings (Landscape 2013, 2013), which reproduced aspects of the landscape watercolours. These mood-shifting interventions, positioned at either end of the gallery, provided a link between the two spaces and a striking formal contrast to the meticulously crafted oil paintings. It was in these that Party’s art-historical concerns were most evident. Played out in a series featuring familiar still life subjects – bottles, flowers, pots, food – there was a palpable sense of what has come before, from the still lifes of 17th-century Europe to Pop art.

Yet, while Party’s recurring coffee pots may recall the reworkings of Giorgio Morandi, his paintings avoid pastiche or homage. With the dimensions of objects often improbable and their colours unrepresentative, they create a strong sense of painting as something tangible – they are specific and of the now. It’s a feeling that was made all the more vivid by the noticeable aroma of layer upon layer of oil paint.

These oddly beautiful still lifes and watercolours show Party to be assured in his craft and clear-minded in his view of what a painting should be. Wrapped in the warm embrace of his graffiti-inspired wall pattern, this ‘good’ painting was something very special indeed.

Chris Sharratt is a freelance writer and editor based in Glasgow. 

Issue 156

First published in Issue 156

Jun - Aug 2013

Most Read

Ahead of ARCOMadrid this week, a guide to the best institutional shows in the city
At La Panacée, Montpellier, Nicolas Bourriaud’s manifesto for a new movement and attempt to demarcate an artistic peer...
A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018

frieze magazine

March 2018