The Coates & Scarry Gallery on London’s Duke Street has made a name for itself as one of the premier places for emerging artists to showcase their work before having thoroughly gained recognition on the notoriously competitive contemporary art scene. In a sense, the gallery works as a gateway between two prospective audiences; the unapologetic crowds of the DIY spaces of South and East London and the increasingly exclusive exhibition spaces orchestrated and frequented by noted leaders and critical consumers of the British modern art movement. But, I digress, the relationship between galleries, artists, and the general public is not what I came here to elaborate on.
Twenty-seven year old Henry Hussey works in a wide range of media, having first trained as a textile designer before transitioning towards his current production of a distinctly intimate body of work, where emphasis is put on self-exploration and social provocation, rather than financial reproduction through creative exploitation within the fashion world’s existing creative framework, whilst still staying true to textile production’s traditionally tactile take on the intellectual process via the intricacy of the applied techniques. By dissecting ordinary yet uncomfortable phenomena such as the conflicting emotions surrounding Hussey’s complicated relationship with his father – powerfully put on display with beautifully embroidered tapestries like Expulsion – Hussey weaves his personal struggles into the very structure of the fabric of his perceived society; the personal becomes political and the political becomes personal on his Technicolor battleground, where the political aspect is further underlined by the fact that the banners are hung just like they would have been in a local post-Thatcher Labour division’s assembly hall. Thus, the message comes across as much as a silent protest as pure propaganda, with the classically striking colour schemes to match.
As the process in achieving Hussey’s desired results is heavily reliant on a heightened level of craftsmanship, it has to be meticulously planned out in order to be executed in a satisfactory manner, which leaves little room for improvisation once thread meets needle and needle meets fabric. Hussey combats this potential sterility by bringing in actors – such as the great Maxine Peake – to investigate his ideas in a live action performative relationship, where the artist’s raw emotions is transported outside the body of their originator, to be crystallised in the space between him as a source and the actor as a human canvas. This approach allows room for a special kind of spontaneity that would otherwise have been made impossible by the complex nature of the artistic process, making the creation of the works as richly embroidered as the pieces themselves.
One thing that strikes me with Hussey’s body of work is the confident use of colour; every colour of the spectrum is utilised to highlight and contrast the strong social commentary woven into the very construction of Hussey’s exploration of personal experiences. The displayed work is as much an expression of beauty as it is a call to arms, exposing the crushing divides of British society – explored in pieces such as The North and Solidarity – by organised elaboration where every detail has a place in the telling of the story. This is an exhibition where anger takes center stage and by exposing that anger through rainbow tinted glasses Hussey makes it – as well as the emotions underlining it – far more approachable, almost to the point of being desirable, which in turn reflects the black and white naivety through which we intentionally or unintentionally regard beautiful objects. By capturing the audience through arresting – and often phallic – imagery and then mirroring his pieces back through the eyes of the spectator Hussey forces us to confront unsavory truths about the nature of humanity and its implied fragility of a democratically ordered society. The explosive, primal, emotions of the individual are distilled to the point where they can make sense in a wider context, and where they become the greatest of all political statements, the personal plights that form us become the societal norms that transform us until the rancid anger they bring with them seeps through the structure of our daily lives, slowly weaving its way through our experiences until they are so exaggerated that it becomes impossible to look away.
In a sea of mindless minimalism posing as reactionary rebellion, this exhibition stands as a beacon of simple beauty with brains and brains with striking, simple beauty. If you are sick of blandness and know what is good for you, grab this chance of seeing something unusually engaging by an exciting new talent.
Coates and Scarry Gallery
8 Duke Street
Images courtesy of the artist and Coates and Scarry Gallery.