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The online editorial and curatorial project for systems, non-objective and reductive artists working in the UK

Website: Chestnuts Design

Tim Ellis | Tomorrow’s Harvest


Fold Gallery, Thursday 14 March - Saturday 4 May 2019

A review by Laurence Noga

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

Tim Ellis’s resonant show at Fold Gallery is intriguing and complex in the way it’s composed. The scale of these intimate sculptures (often seen from two angles) draws the audience into compelling and curious relationships with the sets of works. Ellis uses conflicting impulses to throw us back in time; to position us within an industrialized world, locating our thoughts both in the ‘then’ and the ‘now’. He hints at the sprawling metropolis of London before the war, with its explosion of artistic and musical activity, and the trend towards post-cubism in Paris between 1914-20. This feeling of things covered up, or pushed underground, seems to locate our response within the streets of today’s world; we feel that Ellis may be referring to populist political movements such as the ‘gilets jaunes’ or the UK remainers’ fight to stay in Europe.  


Installation shot

Tinged with an edgy atmosphere, the exhibition feels like a switchboard of communication. Ellis creates tension in his sculptures and drawings through an impression of transfiguration, masking the cigarette card entertainers which populate his work, and allowing the viewer to imagine these characters in whichever way they choose. He skillfully hand-draws and disguises these figures, carefully entombing them within the wall sculptures and drawings. In On High Ground (one of the white plaster sculptures) Ellis focuses our attention on the figure entombed in the lower part of the sculpture. We immediately notice the name of the organist Reginald Dixon, who played at the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool in the 1920s, providing relief from the everyday anxieties of the Great Depression. Dixon was mainly left handed and he often played the accompaniment rhythm with his left hand as well.

On High Ground. Plaster, paper, Perspex, ink and cigarette card


But Ellis has made Dixon a much more mysterious figure. He is masked and surrounded, within the plaster tower, by a network of strange antennae, as though the figure is conducting electromagnetic waves, transmitting and receiving. The drawing in Orange Dusk develops this hidden coding further, with small triangles that are often broken in my imagination, like an early Picasso charcoal drawing with collage. The use of coloured perspex reminds us of Victorian stained glass, and the way in which it brings a subtle inflection of colour and memory.


Orange Dusk. Plaster, paper, Perspex, ink and cigarette card


Perhaps Ellis is hinting at the hidden potential of propaganda. You can’t look inside these structures, as they feel boarded up. They immediately call to mind sculptors such as Henri Laurens or Jacques Lipchitz in the way they are constructed -  composing and interlocking the forms with the idea of a human figure, together with abstract sculptural elements of line, plane and volume. Lipchitz’s work, for example, was often based on the upper part of a human figure, perhaps seated at a table. He began seeing these works as abstract architectural sculptures. In The Tourist we see a systematic arrangement of lines intersecting and passing through the figure. Vivien Lambelet (an actress and composer) is set in a deeply carved recess, caught in a mass of interlocking forms which seem to pulse through her. During the Second World War both sides practiced the art of propaganda in an effort to inspire their people or demoralize their enemies. Music played a significant role in this effort to control hearts and minds, as each country strove to find its musical voice.


The Tourist. Plaster, paper, wood, ink and cigarette card


In Hexagon Sun the feeling of conflict is developed further by the patina which camouflages the structure. This work’s deeply polished tonal values enhance the sense of disguise within the angular geometric blocks. Cemented into this work, Elsie Carlisle (a popular English female singer both before and during the war) has a cubist mask which obstructs her view. Her mask calls to mind Alberto Giacometti’s cubist methods, influenced by African and prehistoric art. For example, The Couple, a cubist sculpture made in 1927, is cast in bronze and has two separate heads on a base, with small geometric shapes depicting the features. Ellis references this by flattening out the forms throughout his drawing, and although he recognises the power of Giacometti’s abstract approach, he introduces his own twist in the way he puts things together.  


Hexagon Sun. Plaster, cellulose, graphite and cigarette card


All the black constructions have male cigarette cards attached to their sense of mass. In Split your infinities the shape feels more about what is happening inside; everything feels more ‘heard’ - like a front door closing behind us. Leslie Bridgewater (attached here) was a soundtrack composer; this association imparts a sense of secrecy which seems to inhabit the objects. They call to mind Max Ernst’s Celebes painting, made in 1921, in which a menacing mechanical structure dominates the composition. This sense of foreboding is further hinted at in Golden Sun Stone. Ronald Gourley was a blind pianist, and Ellis gives him an emotional aura by suspending a circle of gold above his head. The sculpture feels a little like a piece of military radio equipment. This idea is promoted further in Come to dust; here, Stanford Robinson, who was a conductor/composer at the BBC, is placed at an angle at the brink of audibility.

Split Your Infinities. Plaster, cellulose, graphite and cigarette card


Golden Sun Stone.  Plaster, cellulose, graphite and cigarette card


The set of figures that span the gallery at the lower level, such as Alpha and Gyro, ask more serious questions about the exhibition’s standpoint, with its sense of conflict around time, materials, and the influence of cubist routes. All the works here are more physical and confrontational. Each has had the original part of its head removed and replaced by a compressed sculpture, often with a single opening or a recess in deep shadow. I am reminded of Eduardo Paolozzi’s mechanised approach to his figurative sculptures, in which there is a pronounced sense of movement: “I like to make use of everything: “I can't bear to throw things away - a nice wine bottle, a nice box”. I think this quote applies brilliantly to Ellis’s long-term approach. His signature pillowcases are wrapped around the shelter that sits at the end of the gallery. We feel the history of the objects he has taken apart and the domestic connotations that they bring to the exhibition.  


Alpha  Plaster, graphite and enamel (Red)


Gyro  Plaster, graphite and enamel

(Green)


Together with his sense of geometry and his sense of humour, Ellis underpins the whole show with a terrific balance of colour. The intermediate tonal control (often set against rogue edges) allows the sense of façade to orchestrate a dialogue with the whole exhibition. ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ brings new life and new directions.