Whist lying in bed, contemplating what form this exhibition should take, I remembered a painting I’d started in 2006 after being commissioned to go Japan to observe the people and culture. An almost six-foot square canvas of two sumo wrestlers, A Bout was in its infancy and it occurred to me that it might almost be analogous with the world’s current dilemma fighting the coronavirus, which like a wrestler throws back variant after variant. It is also in homage to the Morohashi Museum of Modern Art who currently have an exhibition of surrealism that contains works by Dali, de Chirico, Ernst, Masson, Miro and me.
Pandemonium seemed a good title as it’s also the word that follows pandemic in the dictionary and as we can see in the newspaper headlines, because the situation is so unusual, it has at times created pandemonium across the globe. As I further considered the idea, perhaps because it rhymes, the word harmonium entered my mind in the same instance as recalling that twenty-five years ago I had acquired a beautiful antique Welsh-chapel-type harmonium feeling that when the time was right, I might incorporate it into a three dimensional art work. Now collaged with newspapers that have been used as reference in the painting Weekend of 7th & 8th March 2021 and others which all related to the pandemic, it marks this historic period when we have lost so many. But there is hope in the butterflies on the music stand that I have painted as symbols of rebirth and resurrection and unseen by the viewer but there nonetheless. Collaged on the back are pages from the same newspapers which are full of stories of sports and gossip - thus life goes on.
After lighting candles honouring our brilliant NHS and also commemorating those we have lost, my painting The Candle seemed to evolve almost of its own volition.
For the artist and observer, in an era of adversity such as this there is an abundance of inspiration in the many related tales it conjures up. The Captain’s Table is perhaps on board a cruise ship. Early in the pandemic some vessels filled the news with stories of being unable to dock and disembark because of the fear of outbreaks on board. The painting also makes reference to The Last Supper.
Concurrently, I worked on the octagonal Albatross (A Tale of the Sea) gliding safely above the sea but making reference to the plight of our oceans and the ever inspirational and prophetic Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, both of which I was reading at the time.
The Captain’s Cat was inspired by the closeness that individuals felt towards their feline and canine friends during Lockdowns. There was even a spike in pet thefts as people became conscious that they needed an animal companion. This particular beast is perhaps the ginger tom who frequents our garden for his romantic assignations; he gives me an indignant look thinking that it is I who is the intruder.
The smaller paintings The Albatross and Sea Shanty, were also on easels at the same time. For some reason, sea shanties became very popular during early lockdowns. The one form of travel that couldn’t be stopped was journeying through the imagination.
The Foundling was sparked by a news item about a baby who had been found in the New York subway and adopted by the man who found him.
Time Running Out also addresses climate change and the predicament in which the world finds itself; likewise, Metronome (Marking Time), The Lamp, The Angel& the Ark, And So They Passed. The large 3D piece Death by Plastic is constructed from recycled plastic drainpipe, fishing line and various tiny ephemera; often little toys that have fallen from Christmas crackers and Kinder Eggs which I have been accumulating to recycle in this way for years. Plastic is such a brilliant and colourful material with all its seductive, vibrant qualities also used through the pandemic in hospitals, but becomes a hazard to sea and wildlife when it fills our oceans as debris and micro-plastics. I have interwoven taxidermied fish parts and shells including a swordfish bill which my sister gave me when she found it in her cellar where it may have lain for hundreds of years - John Donne originally lived there.
Dance Perpetual, recently acquired back, again reflects my preoccupation with time which continues to thread its way through my oeuvre.
In this exhibition in the beautiful Panter & Hall Pall Mall gallery, there are three of my corrugated works which create the illusion of movement as one walks past. Fake News (on the Grapevine) is an older work and Notre-Dame de Paris references the tragic fire. I’ve always been fascinated by masks and intrigued by the mystery they bring to the wearer but rarely has the population as a whole been forced to use them so I felt I should create this undulating 3D piece, Masque; whilst obscuring the lower half of our faces these” face coverings” often become quite animated with the movement of the lips and vibration of the voice. The painting was influenced by Japanese manga.
- PJ Crook
If you are interested in any of the reserved paintings, it is worth contacting the gallery as there is a chance that they may become available.
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PALL MALL GALLERY 11-12 Pall Mall London SW1Y 5LU
Monday to Friday: 10AM - 6PM Saturdays: 11AM - 2PM Closed bank holidays