Richard Healy and Jack Newling

Rowing, London, 11 July – 3 August

By Sean Ashton

Richard Healy, aaaah, 2013, embossed colour lithograph. Courtesy the artist.

Rowing’s Reverse Repeat programme is a framework that enables two artists ‘to collaborate
on a single exhibition, create two independent solo shows, or some mixture of the two’. The inaugural show pairs Richard Healy and Jack Newling, who both work sculpturally, exploring the relationship between an object’s perceived status and its symbolic potential. This exhibition has two stages. Part one saw Newling’s body of work, Attachment, in the main gallery and Healy’s Prone Positions in the smaller cabinet room. Part two sees Healy expand his presentation for the main gallery, with Newling downsizing for the cabinet room.

Healy’s Out of Office (all works 2013), made for the cabinet room in part one, comprised
a folded beach towel, a travel vaporiser and
a 12-pack of bottled mineral water, each item presented on a separate shelf of a three-tiered unit. The result was a simple but effective visual haiku, an acerbic paean to clerical absenteeism. These same elements are reused in the three larger pieces currently showing in the main space, Arrangement, Arrangement II and Arrangement III, less-uniform structures with multiple shelves that also feature a scented candle on a steel pole, a floral arrangement in
a blown-glass vase and a QuickTime movie (an aerial view of a simulated modernist building) on a flatscreen. Four lithographs are also shown: palm trees, harbour scenes and poolside views made from pages appropriated from travel brochures. The titles – Aaaah, Aaaaaah, Aaaaaaaah and Aaaaaaaaaah – designate these promotional vistas as kitsch, the enigmatic logos stamped into their surfaces (six parallel bars indented by another work, Prone, two embossing plates designed by the artist) further underlining their shopworn character, perhaps qualifying them as ‘remaindered’ stock. It’s understood that Healy is dealing with ‘constructed’ atmosphere and ‘received’ cultural wisdom, but his main display feels inert, too procedural in its irony compared with the earlier Out of Office, whose poetry of ennui is more mysterious.

Like Julian Opie, Newling turns the sculptural object into an image of itself. His painted plaster versions of ketchup dispensers (Like-Minded, Emotionally Distant) and shampoo bottles (Kept in Mind), though instantly recognisable, are so inscrutable as to deny their own physicality. The two amber pint glasses that form Cheerful are more abstract, due to the cleaner finish and sharper edges. These works (augmented with paintings in part one of Reverse Repeat) occupy nodes of a continuum, at one end of which are objects, at the other end of which are images. They have pictorial or objectual direction, without arriving at a final state. Their finish may seduce you, but it’s this that holds your gaze.

Perhaps the lessons learned from this portmanteau experiment revolve around the contraction and expansion of works. In part two of Reverse Repeat, the components of Healy’s work are too diffuse to operate as anything other than signposts of contemporary culture, but within
a more compact structure (the three-tier shelving unit of part one) they cohere into something more than semiotic. With Newling, it’s the opposite: bunched together on shelves in the cabinet room, his objects look slightly hammy, like props; further apart, they are more effective, especially when, as in part one of Reverse Repeat, they function within a wider ensemble of more painterly elements.

This review was first published in the October 2013 issue.