200 words #18 / Ernest Mancoba

Mancoba_Untitled (3)_hr.jpg

Ernest Mancoba, Untitled (3), 1957, Oil on canvas, 16.5 x 13 in., Image courtesy of Aicon Gallery and the Estate of Ernest Mancoba

Ernest Mancoba (1904 – 2002) was born in South Africa, but spent the greater part of his life in Europe, moving to Paris in 1938, and to Denmark after the war, where he was a founding member of the COBRA movement. In Johannesburg Mancoba first trained in wood carving. One of his early sculptures depicted the Virgin Mary as a black woman. Despite the controversy this generated, Mancoba managed to remain above any limiting debate, always holding firm to “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.

Mancoba carried with him to Europe a very African treatment of figuration, which comes across in the decorative fragmentation of the totemic figure which is central to his work, and which reappears in multiple subtle variations. Mancoba’s training in wood carving too seems to have informed the very application of the paint itself to the canvas; often a series of discrete all-over marks applied to the canvas with the patience of a sculptor chipping away at a wooden panel. The painted surface acts more like a solid block of undifferentiated marks, from which the central figure slowly emerges, and back into which it can just as easily seem to recede.

Ernest Mancoba at Aicon Gallery New York

Le Penseur @ Jack Bell Gallery, London, Aug 5 – 13, 2016.

<em>Rendir</em>, 2016

Karen Hampton ‘Rendir’ 2016. Image courtesy of Jack Bell Gallery.

Despite what might be going on behind the scenes, to the gallery-going public August in London means down-time on the gallery circuit. Many quality, big name galleries fill this gap with group shows which, to the regular visitor, can seem like the weakest link in an otherwise strong calendar of exhibitions. For smaller galleries looking to build an audience however, it’s as good a time as any to offer an overview of the artists they represent.

The group show, ‘Le Penseur’ at Jack Bell Gallery, a bright and tidy space behind White Cube in Masons Yard, provides a neat introduction to some of the Gallery’s stable of artists. The space is a nice surprise at the top of an unexotic flight of stairs in one of the narrow townhouses on the square. It contrasts modestly with the colossal cavity block that is the White Cube. Indeed, this whole area, according to the new Mayfair & St James’s Gallery Map, which shows what I estimate at 150+ galleries, is a densely packed hub where old, ageing, and new spaces coexist. It’s encouraging to see surprisingly fresh work being shown in some of the smaller galleries in this area, in the middle of so much Polo and Aquascutum. Continue reading “Le Penseur @ Jack Bell Gallery, London, Aug 5 – 13, 2016.”